Lady Vengeance (Day 87)
My Opinion: 6.9 || Great visual creativity and cinematic style, but the story reaches for profundity that isn’t there. The lead character is colorful but shallow, and there’s little insight into the psychological or moral impact of vengeance. Nevertheless, the movie does possess some emotional heft, and it’s shot with impressive flair.
TITLE: Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan geumjassi)
DIRECTOR: Chan-wook Park
LANGUAGE: Korean | COUNTRY: South Korea
PROFILE: Thriller | 112 minutes | IMDb (7.6)
SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): After a 13-year imprisonment for the kidnap and murder of a 6 year old boy, beautiful Lee Guem-ja starts seeking revenge on the man that was really responsible for the boy’s death. With the help of fellow inmates and reunited with her daughter, she gets closer and closer to her goal. But will her actions lead to the relief she seeks?
Strengths: Director Chan-wook Park is wildly inventive with camera work and narrative structure. The cinematography is superb, and Park is very skillful at using sound and visual texture to strike a mood. The violence here is more effective and responsible than in many South Korean films. (I’ve seen too many in which the director seems to think that showing viscera is the same as being visceral.) There’s a core of authentic feeling in the film and glimpses of deep characterization.
Weaknesses/Character: The movie’s title is an indication of its core problem: the protagonist Lee Guem-ja exists to serve a theme and strike a sullen pose, never becoming more than the director’s action figure. In a pure adventure film that might enough, but Park is clearly going for deeper resonance. He reveals almost nothing about her background — only those minimal facts necessary to serve the plot — and we see no signs of an inner life beyond what the vengeance story requires.
Because we have such limited understanding of who she was 13 years ago and what motivated the terrible mistake at the heart of the story, her atonement carries little cathartic weight. And Park seems to know it: the movie is laden with false endings as he strains to find a deep-enough chord.
The final vengeance wrought on the murderer strains credulity and is over-engineered. It also edges toward exploitation with an extended sequence that dramatizes the terror of kidnapped children. Images of suffering kids top the list of emotional cheap shots, and filmmmakers need to refrain from abusing that easy effect. Park doesn’t quite cross the line, but he comes closer than is warranted.
The larger problem is that Park makes no real effort to explore vengeance as a morally complicated act. You watch the movie waiting for some degree of introspection to appear, but the subject of vengeance remains unexamined — never more than energy-dense plot fuel.
File Under: prison, abduction, guilt, vengeance, creative imagery