Movie of the Day – Lady Vengeance
May 29, 2011 2 Comments
Now we come to the grand opus of the Movie of the Day revenge trilogy with Lady Vengeance. This is Park Chan-wook’s most operatic and grandiose movie. Out of all the movies in the trilogy, this is the prettiest looking movie of the group and one his best artistic endeavors. While not my favorite of the three, this is a crowning cap on the essence of revenge and the cycle of violence that happens. Before, I discussed that each movie centers around a different theme of revenge. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance dealt with revenge and the consequences of our actions when we want vengeance. Oldboy handle the idea of the revenge and the human condition, seeing how far a human being will go to exact revenge. Lady Vengeance is a story about redemption and salvation that comes from the act of revenge. Can one bury their past once the act of violence is complete? I think that this is the culmination of all the past themes of revenge and presented to us in a neatly wrapped package. Chan-wook gave us a look at revenge through the eyes of a female lead this time around and deep insight into the cold and calculating ways of a woman out for revenge.
Spoiler warning ahead of Lady Vengeance!
We open the movie with a woman named Lee Geum-ja being released from a prison on parole after a lengthy sentence for murder of a young boy, Won-mo, that she didn’t commit. Because of her angelic appearance and age, she was punished harshly for her crime until reforming in prison as “Kind-Hearted Geum-ja”. Now we jump back to before she was imprisoned, where she confesses to murdering the young boy as told to by Mr. Baek (played Oldboy actor Choi Min-sik) who is the real killer and threatened to murder her new born daughter if she didn’t confess. While sentence to prison, Geum-ja made a lot of friends in prison with her kind heart and friendly gestures. Giving up a kidney for a friend, caring for the new inmates and ultimately poisoning the jail bully. Once released from prison, she sets out on revenge for what Mr. Baek did to her by contacting all her old inmate friends and calling favors.
While out of prison, she works at a local pastry shop and begins to distance herself from her old image by wearing dark red eye shadow, heels, and dreaming of murdering Mr. Baek. Geum-ja researches that her daughter, Jenny, is adopted by an Australian couple and gets her back. Unfortunately her daughter is reluctant to accept her as her mother and both have a tension filled relationship early on. Now she sets into motion her plan to kidnap and kill Mr. Baek with the help of his wife who is also an ex-convict. It is revealed that Mr. Baek is also aware of this plan and sets to kill her and Jenny before she gets to him. Mr. Baek succumbs to some sleeping pills in his food that his wife planted.
While transporting Mr. Bake to a secluded, rundown school to kill him, Geum-ja discovers an item of interest on his keys, which is a trinket from his murdering of Won-mo. She notices that there are numerous trinkets and that he has killed more than one child. The help of detective on the missing children cases they discover the tapes of him killing the kids and they contact all the parents of the children. Geum-ja sets into motion a plan for all those affected by him to exact there revenge.
The focal of point of the movie centers on the act of redemption and closure that the parents and Geum-ja seek from Mr. Baek. Their final meeting in the abandoned school allows all to confront the rage that they have get a little piece of their humanity back, more so by inflicting pain onto Mr. Baek. After all this time, the parents are really the ones who the movie focuses on in terms of revenge. While Geum-ja wanted all this time to kill him, she doesn’t right away, but rather acts as this angel to the other parents of the victims and allows them to get their pound of flesh. Her revenge was centered on allowing others to get their fill. Throughout the movie, she only kills two people and those were the thugs that Mr. Baek hired to kill her and Jenny. She did slowly poison the jail bully, but only to make the prison a better place. In some ways, she couldn’t kill him. The pain an anguish she felt comes to a close when they bury Baek and she puts two bullets into his already dead body. That whole time she could have taken her revenge but doing so would essentially consume her whole and there would be no redemption for what she did.
Geum-ja got her revenge in a different way. While not killing him by her hand, she was able to bring all the demons out of Baek’s closet and have him confront those that he hurt the most. The people who don’t have their children anymore because of his actions. Geum-ja has a piece of her humanity back with having her daughter back in her life. She didn’t need to go any further as doing so would set a bad example for Jenny. Her human spirit and limitations were tested in the quest for revenge and she essentially won. She didn’t become what Baek is, a cold blooded killer, but is savior for all those families and parents who were hurt by Baek.
All three aspects of the revenge themes converge in this movie. Dealing with our actions and the consequences with Baek having to pay for his crimes. Testing the human spirit with Geum-ja going through her revenge plot but never fully finishing the crime by her hand. She stopped short of becoming a monster when she was really the “Kind-Hearted Geum-ja” that everyone makes her out to be. Last the act of salvation and redemption, which is culminated in the final closing scene where Geum-ja presents Jenny with a white cake that looks like a block of tofu. She asks Jenny to “live white” which is color synonymous with purity. Jenny eats the cake and says that Geum-ja should live even more purely. Geum-ja looks at the falling snow, sobs and buries her face in the cake.
Overall the movie is a beautiful one to watch. Chan-wook made this into an opera with its grand, sweeping soundtrack of Baroque era music and stunning artistic eye for cinematography. While this is more style than substance, I think that it effectively brings together all the themes and directing style that Chan-wook was working up to in this trilogy. While his first movie was minimalistic with camera work and color palette, Oldboy amped up the use the of tracking shots and violence. Lady Vengeance bring together a subtle touch of violence, made visceral by Geum-ja’s appearance, and his a more picturesque film. You will notice that in the first half of the movie, the color and settings are vibrant and pastel color filled. As she exits prison, you get darker colors with red, black and grey. This shift signifies the change in her mood and demeanor.
There is one thing that I didn’t know about the movie when it was released here in the states, which is we were seeing a different version of the original film. The alternate version of the of the film didn’t remove or add any scenes, but the cinematic presentation and color changes. Above I stated the change in the films color usage, going from vibrant pastels to dark, mute colors. Well when the movie was released in Korea, Chan-wook made the film change color at the halfway mark of the film. The color gradually bleeds out of the picture once released from prison and turns into a black and white color scheme. I thought that this was a fantastic choice and only got to see this recently with the release of the movie on Blu-ray and we got both versions. The film color change helps move you into the mindset that Geum-ja is moving away from her previously good-nature lifestyle in to the cold, calculating woman she becomes.
I indicated that this was not my favorite of the trilogy, in fact it ranks third behind Mr. Vengeance while Oldboy is at the top. I think this is a lot more artistic heavy with emphasis on style over substance. I feel the tone and art choices take away sometimes from story at heart. Overall still an amazing ride from Chan-wook and I will see any movie this man makes as he is one of the best Korean directors out there and his body of work is incredible.