Lady Vengeance
"Park's delicious sense of storytelling doesn't take long in presenting itself and the humour, as you might expect, is of the gallows variety."

Lady Vengeance completes a superb, successful and highly original trilogy of films by South Korean director Park Chan-wook. Showing a stunningly precocious and unrelentingly cinematic grasp of narrative, they have gripped, shocked and entertained audiences throughout the world. Starting with Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, a film that I confess I have yet to see, he followed with the muscular and inventive Old Boy, a story that would put Freud into a tailspin, while keeping him gripped by the drip feed plot.

Lady Vengeance is a spectacular and satisfying finale, in keeping with Park's desire to tell a story that could "be told in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette," an Old Testament female empowerment fantasy of distinct power and amplitude.

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It's true that the Chan-wook style is not for everyone, his CG-assisted camera rivals David Fincher's indulgence, but it's a flavour that is to my taste.

Lady V is less of a mind trip than Oldboy and considerably less out-and-out action. The revenge tale takes its story from a wronged woman and how she aims to atone for the sins of her past.

Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) is a notorious murderer, having been in prison for 13 years for killing an eight-year-old boy. She converts to Christianity, winning over the hearts and minds of her fellow prisoners, helping them so they can do her favours on the outside. All the while she plots a perfect revenge on the true murderer, Mr Baek (Choi Min-sik, the abused Oh Daes-su from Oldboy).

The film shifts aggressively backwards and forwards in time, forcing the audience to stay awake. The favoured prisoners in Geum-ja's jail are given entertaining back-stories, especially The Witch, a domineering bull dyke, who meets a comparatively pleasant end. Before focusing on Geum-ja's redemption with her daughter, those on the outside and the policeman who never believed she was guilty stir themselves into action. There's even time for a little disposable heterosexual bedroom action.

Park's delicious sense of storytelling doesn't take long in presenting itself and the humour, as you might expect, is of the gallows variety. It could be argued that he does not know the meaning of subtlety. A hair-raising scene of secretive videotape playback could be the moment he goes too far. It hits with the force of a blow, inciting blood lust, rage and horror. Like Cronenberg's A History Of Violence, he expertly and imperviously manipulates the audience through surrealistic POV shots, inventive computer graphics and music. There's a brilliant dream sequence, involving the grown-up murdered boy, where he incites her as being complicent in the murder by her inaction.

Again, he teams up with Old Boy cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun to fashion an exquisite looking film, rivalling Christopher Doyle's work in texture and colour. He also adores Leone-like use of extreme close-ups. Watch the opening sequence, where Geum-ja is released from prison, how she captures the audience's attention, slinking through the crowd like a ghost on a mission, reminiscent of Closer's opening shots, a distant zoom holding it together so everything is in deep focus. It's a captivating combination of performance, composition and musical direction.

The operatic nature is driven home by the Scorsese and Tarantino-esque ability to choose an appropriate piece of music. It marries well with the extreme storytelling and characterisation to give the film a flavour of operatic grandeur. Lady Vengeance also sports an incredibly/entertainingly portentous opening credit sequence, using rose bushes, red blood, paint, tears and the human body.

Ludicrous, but just plain cool. One of the year's best films.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2006
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Lady Vengeance packshot
Revenge is ugly and intricately planned in South Korea. Now out to own as part of the Vengeance Trilogy box set.
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Read more Lady Vengeance reviews:

Chris Brooks ****1/2
Anton Bitel ****
Paul Griffiths ****
Richard Mellor ***1/2

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park

Starring: Lee Yeong-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Si-hu, Kwon Yea-young, Oh Dai-su, Lee Seung-shin, Kim Bu-sun, Kim Byeong-ok, Choi Sung-yoon, Nam Il-woo, Cha Soon-bae, Kim Ik-tae, Lee Young-mi, Kim Jin-goo, Seo Young-joo, Koh Soo-hee, Ra Mi-ran, Song Kang-ho

Year: 2005

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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The Vengeance Trilogy