Lady Vengeance (18)
Time Out says
Posted: Mon Feb 6 2006There’s a moment in ‘Lady Vengeance’ when the central character commissions a bespoke firearm with the stern direction that ‘it has to be pretty. Everything should be pretty.’ It’s not a bad emblem for the films of Park Chan-Wook, in which unabashed, even sadistic, violence is married with an aesthete’s concern for the well-turned image. The final part of his ‘vengeance trilogy’, this shares its predecessors’ formal and thematic concerns rather than their characters or settings: like 2002’s ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ and 2003’s ‘Oldboy’, it’s a slow-burning retribution narrative in which a well-founded, better-nursed grudge is visited on the body of its target with such calculated ferocity that the boundaries of victim and perpetrator blur in the red mist. Pound-of-flesh cinema, you might say.
In ‘Sympathy…’, selfless deaf-mute Ryu became a kidnapper with blood on his hands; in ‘Oldboy’, victim of outrageous abuse Oh Dae-su turned out to have some atoning of his own to do. ‘Lady Vengeance’ spins this approach itself around: we first meet Lee Keum-ja (Lee Young-ae) as a convicted child-killer approaching parole and only gradually realise the righteous foundations of the vendetta she coldly begins to pursue, aided by various fellow inmates whose favour she has assiduously curried.
Keum-ja is an uncommunicative lead character and, Lee’s strong performance notwithstanding, engagement is mostly maintained through style and story. Both of these feel newly expansive for Park: the screen heaves with richly ornate pickings and black-white-and-red motifs, from the delicate titles and flourishes of religiose iconography to macabre daydream visions and digital sleight-of-hand. The tight narrative traps of ‘Sympathy…’ and ‘Oldboy’, meanwhile, give way to copious flashback and an odd climax: while underlining Park’s interest in the price to be paid when parental duty fails, it makes Keum-ja a bystander in the cathartic blood-letting to which the whole film has been directed. This sequence, strangely funny and sadistic, seems to suggest that if there’s one thing better than taking revenge, it’s watching it dished out – an objectionable premise which can only give queasy pause as you sit watching it.
Fri Feb 10, 2006