Say this much for Park Chan-wook’s wildly overrated revenge flick Oldboy, coronated by a Tarantino-chaired jury at Cannes: It definitely lets you know where you stand. You either go ape for its tongue-slicing, head-hammering action, or you call it what it is—empty style. As for the serious critics who did both, the news that Park had a trilogy in mind provided all the thematic heft they needed.
Lady Vengeance, the conclusion of that trilogy (which started strong with 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), is a psychotic affair, split into two tonally distinct sections. At first, perhaps repaying a favor to the director of Kill Bill, Park modulates the formula by breaking the news that chicks have murderous rages too. The angelic Geum-ja (Lee) is released from a decade-plus span in the clink for a kid-killing she didn’t commit. A Manson-like celebrity, she reconnects with other released cellmates as the narrative flips into lurid prison flashbacks involving an evil bull dyke. Ah, art cinema.
But the film takes a detour into a strangely compelling examination of capital punishment, as Geum-ja’s ultimate (and elaborate) plan comes into focus. The real killer, a remorseless kindergarten teacher (Oldboy’s Choi), is apprehended, and several parents are assembled for a procedure that’s less gruesome (onscreen, at least) than darkly comic and thoughtfully cathartic. Clearly this is the way forward; let’s hope Park has the sense to continue to address sympathy as well as vengeance. (Opens Fri; Angelika.)—Joshua Rothkopf