Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
After spending thirteen years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, Geum-ja Lee is released to start a new life. But this new life includes revenge against the man that put her there, and the chance to see a daughter she never knew.
Is it good movie?
Park Chan-wook is one of the best director’s in cinema. His brilliant work in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy has made watching movies exciting again. And he continues with the stunningly poetic Lady Vengeance. When Geum-ja Lee is sent to prison for a crime she didn’t commit, she seemingly accepts her fate. And for the next thirteen years, she spends her time helping others in need. But each day that passes, she looks forward to a day when she can make the man that sent her there pay for his sins. What looks like it could be a typical revenge flick is truly far from it. This is a story about sins and the importance of redemption. Will vengeance heal the wounds that seem to never disappear? If all this sounds too deep then it might not be for you. This is a vivid, heart-wrenching fairy tale that spends much of the first half feeling a tad disconnected which may turn some off. But much like Mr. Vengeance, it begins to reveal itself as a masterpiece of cinema. The vibrant colors, solid direction, the rich score and an Oscar worthy performance from Lee Young-ae (yeah, I know it won’t happen… but it should) make for one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
With Oldboy and Mr. Vengeance, there was an almost masculine sensibility to the violence. So it seems fitting that this takes it to a more feminine place. There is still a strong amount of violence, including some disturbing images with children and it leaves just as much of a lasting impression as Park’s predecessors if not more. But much like the title character, it seems to be softer; her revenge is calculated as she takes her time to find her redemption. And when her vengeance is served, it is not at all what you would expect. Which is why the film works, it is not a movie you can just grab a popcorn and soda and just watch. There is much to appreciate, with each twist and turn you grow to know the characters more and understand their plight. The strengths come from Park Chan-wook who co-wrote the script and directs with an assuredness and understanding of what makes film work. There is also a nice bit of humor which can turn to darkness and vice-versa. And the images work so well that without even reading the subtitles, you can understand much of what is going on if you don’t understand the language. This is a wickedly beautiful film which questions the act of retribution and those that seek it.
Video / Audio
Video: This is a fantastic Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 which adds to the beauty of the film.
Audio: With one of my favorite film scores I have heard in awhile, this Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and DTS Surround Sound 5.1 is also great.
Tartan Asia Extreme seems to be listening to my constant rants about crappy extras. Many of their films seem to be a little lean when it comes to good ole’ special features. But they did good work here.
We have three Commentaries with this disc. The first is with director Park Chan-wook and actress Lee Young-ae. I was really looking forward to this one but it is not the most informative listen. Although she is charming as hell, they both seem to be more interested in watching the movie then actually talking about it.
The next commentary is from Park Chan-wook, Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon and art director Hyeon-Seok Choi. While this is more interesting than the first, it is a tad too technical and therefore is not the best listen.
The final commentary from Richard Peña, the Program Director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center is surprisingly the best one to watch. He really dissects the film and makes many of the ideas clear to the viewer. He talks often about the “religious subtext” of the film which makes a lot of sense. Although he suffers some with a few silent moments, he is very informative.
Although it’s short, The Making of Lady Vengeance (10:44) is an interesting look behind the scenes. I liked how it also took the ideas of the film and broke them down for the audience especially regarding the “theatrical look” of the film.
Next we have both the International Theatrical Trailer (1:53) and the Domestic Theatrical Trailer (1:49). Both are solid but I prefer the domestic better because it seemed to sell the film better.
Then we have an Interview with Director Park Chan-wook (42:05). This is a very long interview done with a translator. It is an interesting watch because he talks about the anti-vengeance theme of the film and how he chose his leading lady. There is much to gain from watching this but I think if they had cut out the translator and just used subtitles, it might have worked better.
And finally, we get a quick commercial for Tartan Asia Extreme and all their releases.
Lady Vengeance is a heartbreakingly beautiful yet darkly surreal look at the price you pay for redemption. Park Chan-wook directs with a solid understanding of film and the impact of violence. Although not as brutal as the first two in his vengeance trilogy, it still delivers the goods while creating an almost fantasy world grounded in reality. It also gives us Lee Young-ae who gives a strikingly beautiful performance of a woman out for redemption. A smart, violent and often times beautiful film that is easily one of the best I’ve seen this year.