I guess it was somewhat convenient and clever for Park to have conceived this film as the third and final installment to his two pragmatically different films. Seeing as how Lady Vengeance shares two similar themes of unjust imprisonment and child kidnapping with her elder brothers Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Clearly if this picture wouldn't have been regarded in the trilogy, many would proclaim Park as stagnant and unable of moving away from these akin proses dealing with revenge.
Film opens with the release of Lady Vengeance, a.k.a. "The Witch", a.k.a. "kind-hearted Geum-ja", played by the elegant Yeong-ae Lee. I was quite surprised by how heavily narrated this film was from the get-go, as I was expecting the major breakdowns and motives revealed at a much later time, lets say right before the final pinnacle. But I preferred this to how Oldboy played, in a sense that Lady Vengeance didn't largely depended on the "big shocker" to end the film and instead moved along steadily, revealing everything piece by piece.
Making comparisons with Park's past two films was much tangible here as with each beautiful classical piece mirroring one from Oldboy there was also the unexaggerated violence similar to that of SFMV. The music was again well chosen and played in melancholic and elating waves without any use of mainstream ballads or electronic beats. Some of the compositions were used multiple times and while they might come off a bit repetitive, most of them were either recurring for the sake of certain notions and themes that the characters were going through or just because.
Aside from the tight main cast, many known and capable faces of Korean cinema made appearances in short and shorter interludes throughout the film. Not much else could be said, apart from them doing just as much as the script was asking of them. While the visual and musical aspects of the film are simply splendid, the story here might cause some viewers to contend whether everything premeditated and executed by our leading lady was truly worthful.
**The following comments contain spoilers**
A lot was shown of what Geum-ja was like during the prison time where she was boldly portrayed as a calculating, 'devil in God's clothes' of a woman who had a conveniently good eye for helping those who could later help her. Geum-ja was able to put on a quite a good by finding faith and making public speeches. But she had the best part reserved for Mr. Baek, played by the powerhouse actor Min-sik Choi. Mr. Baek had betrayed Geum-ja and made her take the blame for a murder of a child that he himself committed. And if then 19 year old Geum-ja was to refuse, he would've simply killed her (illegitimate) newborn child.
More was revealed about Mr. Baek who continued working as a kindergarten teacher for when Geum-ja captured him with the help of her former cell mate, who returned her a favor by marrying Mr. Baek and coping with his demeaning ways. Apparently Mr. Baek's past crime with that child wasn't a singular case as he had a fetish for capturing little kids and taping their deaths on camera for his viewing pleasure.
After toying with Mr. Baek, but holding back from completely destroying him, Geum-ja revealed her grand plan. Standing in the middle of an abandoned school, in a classroom of irregularly filled seats, Geum-ja gathered the family members of those kids that Mr. Baek had killed. After screening the tapes, Geum-ja gave those people options to either have their way with Baek or call upon the law to deal with him instead.
Watching these characters nauseate over the tapes of their little children being tortured in a way deflated Geum-ja's arc as a character and somewhat weakened the film's final punch in my eyes. So many years spent in jail and questions surrounding the well-being of her daughter must have been undoubtedly excruciating for her, but standing next to these people, who unlike her seemed so much more humane and relatable, I felt a lot more sorrow for them than I did for Geum-ja, most likely due to how mechanical and manipulative her character was made to look, which to say the least was brave of the director, if not a bit overzealous. Her struggles with gaining forgiveness from the dead boy and the symbolism of the white cake representing her state of repentance, overshadowed the climax of the revenge, however the scenes with the family members going in one by one after Mr. Baek were the essence of the film.
**End of spoilers**
In the end I found Lady Vengeance more infatuated with itself than Oldboy, but not as fundamentally visceral and unrelenting as SFMV, which remains to be my favorite film from Park to date. Lady Vengeance felt like an amusement park, filled with hard facts mixed with dreamy imagination sequences, en route of sardonic pokes at religion and sexual deeds. A film with a little bit of everything for everyone, that's if you don't strip away its flashy overtones and comic-book-like personifications, which gracefully coat the film's otherwise improbable scheme, fantasized by a random cell-woman, unjustly imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit.
I think Park needs to make a film that will not only disassociate him from his well talked about and highly debated trilogy flicks, but will devoid him from being thrown into the pool of devaluing comparisons to Hollywood films like Kill Bill as also witnessed with the response to A Bittersweet Life from the press and movie fans. Park has all the right tools and he has shown us the many faces of revenge, now it's time for him to show us something else.
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