Directed by Chan-wook Park
Distributed by Tartan Video
I have a confession to make: When I first sat through Lady Vengeance, I didn’t much care for it. In fact, I thought it was an absolute mess. Yet, there was something about it that compelled me to hold off all judgments until I could get another viewing. It’s a good thing too. As it turns out, Lady Vengeance isn’t a mess at all. There’s just a whole lot to absorb.
The final installment of Chan-wook Park’s “vengeance trilogy” (following the brilliant Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy) may share thematic ties to its siblings but couldn’t be more different in approach. The story is constructed through a complex out-of-sequence narrative that jumps around so often, it may take time to get your bearings. It’s easy to dismiss this loopy approach as being over-stylized or pretentious, but it perfectly compliments Park’s offbeat and ironic tone which has more shades than a color wheel. To say that I caught more with repeated viewings is an understatement. It almost feels like the film was designed with that idea in mind.
Yeong-ae Lee gives the performance of a lifetime as Geum-ja, a woman who is blackmailed into aiding a kidnapper and made into the fall gal when the child is murdered, causing a media firestorm. During her thirteen-year imprisonment Geum-ja becomes renowned for her kindness, earning her the reputation of a saint and an early parole. But when greeted at the prison gates by a congregation of religious supporters, she bluntly tells them to screw themselves and heads off to plot an elaborate revenge scheme with the help of her former inmates.
The film itself is far more layered and intricate than any description I could give. Lady Vengeance demands a lot from its viewer, but the rewards couldn’t be greater. Park fans already have an idea of what to expect: intriguing characters, a confrontational story, and no compromises. The tone jumps around from drama to dark comedy to horror, but it all feels completely organic. Visually the film is stunning. This is a living, breathing painting ripe with surrealism and iconic imagery that perfectly enhance Park’s complex outlook on revenge. Add one of the best soundtracks ever composed, and you have another masterful entry from a world-class filmmaker.
I have only one complaint: The film never shows us the events that led to Geum-ja’s incarceration. You’d think this would be detrimental in a revenge film, but Park isn’t interested in telling that side of the story. It would’ve been nice to see some of the torment that befell our protagonist (which is only told through exposition and Lee’s nuanced performance), but then again, this isn’t entirely her story. Without giving anything away, Park throws out a harrowing twist in the third act, evolving the story from a personal revenge piece and posing a moral dilemma so disturbing it makes Hard Candy seem like an after-school special.
Tartan has done a tremendous job bringing Lady Vengeance to DVD by including another top-notch transfer and a slew of special features. There’s “The Making of Lady Vengeance” featurette comprised of loosely edited on-set moments involving the cast and crew goofing off. There are also three(!) commentaries, most notably a subtitled track with director Park and actress Yeong-ae Lee. Their talk is lighthearted and informative before they’re joined on the second track by the film’s cinematographer and art director. The last commentary is from Richard Pena, programming director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I know, I know. “Who the fuck cares,” right? Well, it should be noted that Pena has an encyclopedic knowledge of the film and discusses every aspect in scholarly detail (although you can make a drinking game with the number of times he says “indeed”). If all this weren’t enough, there’s a 40-minute(!!) interview with Park along with several trailers.
Pitch out those bootlegs and imports, folks, because this edition is well worth picking up (and it’s enough to make one drool over Tartan’s upcoming three-disc release of Oldboy). Lady Vengeance may be the least accessible entry in Chan-wook Park’s oeuvre, but it’s a film that’s guaranteed to stick with you – even if you’re a detractor.
Interview with director Chan-wook Park
“The Making of Lady Vengeance” featurette
Commentary by director Chan-wook Park and lead actress Yeong-ae Lee
Commentary by director, lead actress, cinematographer, and art director
Commentary by Richard Pena
International and U.S. trailers
4 1/2 out of 5