Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-Wook, 2005)

I have a bit more trouble nailing down my feelings on the third installment of Park's "Vengeance Trilogy"* than I did with the first two. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a brilliant film that I couldn't quite connect with, while the second installment, Oldboy, is--I really believe this--a cinematic masterpiece of the rarest order. I'm not really sure where to put Lady Vengeance. It definitely had a greater impact on me than Mr. Vengeance, and I definitely liked it less than Oldboy (which may be unfair, since it's a much more sedate film).

It's a beautiful film, thanks in no small part to Yeong-Ae Lee. Like Min-Sik Choi (who also does great work here) in Oldboy, Park gets great mileage out of Lee's incredibly expressive face. Byeong-ok Kim also turns in a great semi-comic role, his overly-expressive face reminding me of Allen Joseph's ghastly smile in Eraserhead. Park's camera has a knack for finding fantastic sights, and this film makes great use of color, specifically white (used to represent purity, innocence and pennance) and red (representing both sin and the path of vengeance).

While Oldboy was equally succesful as a drama, comedy, horror movie, action movie, mystery, and art film all at the same time, Lady Vengeance uses all those elements, but remains solidly a drama, as dark a drama as anyone could conceive. There are no hammer fights to get the fans cheering in the aisles, but by the time the film reaches its absurd, gruesome, and emotionally devastating climax, nobody watching could remain unaffected.

But somehow--and I've had several days to ruminate on it, but haven't been able to quite identify the source of my feelings--there seems to be something off, some thematic element that isn't quite touched. Guem-ja's vengeance feels like an empty act (which such vengeance must always be) in the face of the unspeakable atrocities that she is avenging, and considering her own guilt in the situation, it just seems a little too cathartic, too cinematic. It may be an unfair point, since they are seperate stories, but I feel like Park made Oh Dae-su's vengeance seem more morally ambiguous than Guem-ja's, when it was never really clear if Oh Dae-su was even responsible for the crimes he was accused of in the first place (dancing around these plot points is hard work, so forgive me if these sentences sound a bit convoluted).

Park Chan-wook may be the best director working today. Next up for him is a vampire movie. To say I'm giddy with anticipation of that one would be an understatement.

"Trilogy" may be the wrong word, since the three stories are only related thematically, but tryptich, or triptych, or whatever, sounds pretentious, and I obviously can't spell it.


Blogger Unknown said...

The Cyborg film is next, not the vampire picture.

5/17/2006 8:50 PM  
Blogger Chris Oliver said...

Well, at this point I'd be excited if his Jane Austen adaptation was next, so cyborg is OK with me.

5/18/2006 8:18 AM  

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