Dir: Park Chan-wook. SKor. 2005. 113mins.
Few contemporarydirectors are able to mix genres and moods as confidently as Park Chan-wook -and get away with it. The third and final part of the Korean director'sJacobean revenge trilogy, after Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Oldboy,is the most daring of the lot in the way it ricochets between comedy andtragedy, realism and caricature.
Action fans turned on toPark by Oldboy may be disappointed, as there is nothing here to rivalits predecessor's set pieces, like the instant-classic hammer fight in thecorridor.
But Lady Vengeance isnot about brute violence: though it gets physical, sometimes almost unwatchablyso, the film moves beyond the obsessive revenge lust of the first two films toexplore revenge as a form of redemption, or atonement.
As a result it has a morespiritual thrust, as embodied in its angel/demon heroine Geum-ja, played withsteely fire by Korean film and TV star Lee Young-ae. It's also, by quite a longchalk, the funniest part of the trilogy.
On the film's Korean releasein mid-July, a huge, publicity-fuelled opening weekend was followed by a steadyweek-by-week tail-off that has seen it pass 4m admissions.
Beyond home, the film'stonal and thematic complexity could translate into less buoyant takings thanthe more Tarantino-esque Oldboy. But posterity may well decree this tobe the most nuanced, inventive and masterly part of the revenge trilogy - andthis should give the film a long DVD afterlife, moreso when bundled togetherwith its two companion pieces.
As in Oldboy, the fragmentedtime structure of the film makes the audience work to piece together the who,why and how of the revenge plot. More interestingly, we also have to make aneffort to work out the heroine, Geum-ja. Choi Min-sik's character in Oldboywas fairly straightforward: a loser transformed into a single-minded killer by15 years of solitary confinement.
Geum-ja is less easy toread: in her 13 years in a women's prison she was a model prisoner, a Samaritanalways ready to help others. But on release she spurns the clergyman who sawher as a miraculous angel, and sets about taking revenge on Mr Baek (ChoiMin-sik), the teacher, turned lover, who persuaded her to take the fall for hismurder of a five-year-old boy.
It soon turns out thatGeum-ja's good behaviour in prison was solely directed towards getting outquick and gaining herself allies (the fellow inmates she helped out indifferent ways) who would help her put her revenge plan into action.
Visually inventive, asalways, Lady Vengeance derives its punchy look from restless, off-centrecamera framing, and careful colour coding of sets and costumes (the naive printfrocks Geum-ja wears at the beginning are gradually replaced by darker, moretailored clothes as the moment of revenge approaches).
There are a couple ofstylised dream sequences, but overall Lady Vengeance is more natural in itssettings than the studio-built Oldboy: the women's prison, the cake shopwhere the heroine works after coming out of gaol, or the abandoned school wherethe final confrontation takes place, are real places.
This grounding in realitymakes the film's most harrowing movement - grainy, home-video footage of aserial killer's infant victims - even more difficult to take.
Some at Venice found LadyVengeance nasty and exploitative. But the final scene - one of the bestthings the director's has ever done - pushes through the disgust towards tragiccatharsis and a real sense of tenderness. Laughter, tears and the vomit reflex:they're all part of Park's rich tapestry.
CJ Capital Investment
TSJ Entertainment Korea Capital Investment
Ilshin Capital Investment
Samsung Venture Capital
S Korean distribution/Internationalsales