Lady Vengeance

  • Park Chan-Wook
  • 2006

Park Chan-Wook is probably the hottest name in world cinema right now. The South Korean director made it big in his own country with the record-breaking Joint Security Area in 2000, an engaging effort about the no man’s land between the two very different Koreas. He then began his revenge trilogy in 2002 with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, before astonishing the world (and collecting a Palme D’Or at Cannes) for his next offering, 2004’s Old Boy, a film so original that critics and fans the world over immediately split their popcorn and sat up sharply in their seats.

Now he returns with the final part of said trilogy (and no, you don’t have to have seen either previous part), and unsurprisingly it’s another lesson in contrition and vengeance. But although the film does contain a gem of a moral dilemma, it is really a work of two halves. Unfortunately, this means ploughing through a messy first hour before arriving at the crux of the issue. Despite all of the hype surrounding the film’s arrival, it does prove to be something of a disappointment.

Park’s trademark ability to make audiences feel very uncomfortable is still evident.

In an opening hour that is likely to try even his most ardent fans’ patience, Park sets up the story of Lady Vengeance: a young woman wrongly imprisoned for the kidnap and murder of a child thirteen years ago. Guem-Ja – as she is known – is bitter and determined to quash the memories of her stay in jail and, more to the point, track down the real killer.

This is ostensibly fine as a plot line, but Park befuddles the story by concentrating far too much on Guem-Ja’s stay in prison and her bizarre relationship with her fellow inmates. It’s whimsical and often meant to be comedic, but his attempts to come across as an Asian David Lynch never quite hit the mark. Much more successful and recognizable is the film’s second half. Once Guem-Ja finds the real killer, she comes up with a fascinating proposition: to let the parents of all of the children he has slain decide what his fate should be. Needless to say this is grim, sad, and occasionally shocking stuff (Park’s trademark ability to make audiences feel very uncomfortable is still evident).

It’s a shame that this impressive second half is marred by the uneasy mix of comedy and drama of the opening hour, which is often too simplistic and one-dimensional. Despite pulling things together for the finale however, it’s still hard, on this evidence at least, to feel much sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

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