I’ve finally finished Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy! Man, it feels good! Sparking within me the sudden desire to wear red eye shadow, Lady Vengeance focuses on Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae), a recently-released alleged child murderer who gained a reputation for saintly behavior in prison. As she seeks out her old prison-mates and calls in some favors, the story flashes back to their crimes and subsequent experiences in jail. With this back-and-forth mode of storytelling, we gradually learn the true nature of Geum-ja’s character and begin to understand her intentions. One decision early in her life determined everything that happened to her afterward, and she seeks to tie up a host of loose ends.
This is an intricate and expertly told narrative with a master behind the scenes and a talented actress in focus. The script deftly weaves a cohesive story from several disparate threads- time periods, characters, locations- and works in some thrilling moments and off-kilter violence. It’s cleverly done, leaving the audience to make certain inferences and connections so that nothing is too obvious but everything makes sense. There is a good balance between badass revenge tale and in-depth character study, ultimately leading to a gripping and fast-paced drama.
Lee Yeong-ae is mesmerizing as the lead character Geum-ja. Her young face and innocent beauty befuddle almost everyone she meets, and she dons the red eye shadow to represent her newly hardened exterior. Many of her darker actions and motivations remain a mystery throughout the first half of the film, yet she is somehow always sympathetic due to Lee’s charisma and strength. Though she grounds the film completely, there’s a strong supporting cast with Choi Min-sik (Mr Oldboy himself) as a corrupt schoolteacher and Kwon Yea-young as a Korean girl raised in Australia, among many wonderful ladies as Geum-ja’s fellow inmates. Favorite Korean Actor Song Kang-ho even shows up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role!
Lady Vengeance delivers in every way, offering a strong, determined central character and a complex, intelligent narrative. It’s beautifully shot, accompanied by a soaring classical score, and doesn’t move in a predictable fashion. It’s a Park Chan-wook film, you guys, what more can I say? The man is absolutely brilliant. And I don’t think he’s capable of making a movie I won’t love.