LADY VENGEANCE (2005)
The final instalment of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy further amplifies the stylised violence as a wrongly convicted woman hunts the true perpetrator
Two descriptors are most commonly presented for the Vengeance Trilogy – ‘violent’ and ‘stylish’. While the first two parts of the trilogy – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Oldboy (2003) manage to have it in spades, the final outing has it in truckloads.
With his reputation as Korea’s most exciting modern filmmaker, Director Park runs wild during Lady Vengeance, offering up a confronting, sometimes shocking, but wildly entertaining final film in his trio of revenge masterpieces.
A strong female protagonist furnishes this narrative, an element that Director Park repeatedly returns to with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin) in Thirst (2009), India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) in Stoker (2013), plus Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and Nam Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) in The Handmaiden (2016).
Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is a reformed female prisoner after serving 13 years inside for the kidnap and murder of six-year-old schoolboy, Won-mo.
On her conviction, Geum-ja became a national sensation – young, angelic and beautiful, she was hardly the typical child murderer. In prison she became a role model for other inmates due to her reform and spiritual transformation that enabled her early release.
However, we soon learn that the altruistic actions were a cover to enable her revenge plan, as she seeks the true culprit behind the crime which sent her away.
As you could expect from Director Park, the violence is frequent, bloody and highly stylised. There are some scenes, especially one involving found footage of a child murder, that are likely to jolt even the more hardened dark thriller fans.
There is vast emotional depth to such violence though. Lee Geum-ja, coloured in that now iconic red eye shadow, is not just a women fuelled by fury and revenge, though there is plenty of that too. She is a broken woman who will never get her life back. Pursuing a revenge she must fulfil, even if it will offer her very scant personal fulfilment.
The film has such a wide array of beautiful shots it should be played on a loop in an art gallery. Director Park uses light snow as an ideal backdrop to some of these elements, but in true dark comedy Park style, he is even able to assemble as eye-wateringly artistic telling of someone being poisoned to death by bleach.
A further recommendation must be made for the alternative version of the film, the ‘fade to black and white’ edition available on some DVD and Blu-ray releases. A variation on the straight monochrome version, it not only gradually fades to black and white during the film but primary colours are similarly emphasised in the early stages.
The film has pitch-perfect pacing. The narrative unfolding with unparalleled timing and interest. It is not only a superb film in its own right, but a perfect conclusion to the Vengeance Trilogy, securing its place as the best film series in the history of Korean cinema.