Take a Drink: for… Christianity? Buddhism? Mormonism? Koreshianism? Wetf that is.
Take a Drink: for every face you recognize from other Park Chan-wook films
Take a Drink: for each prisoner we’re introduced to
Take a Drink: for English
Take a Drink: for tofu
Do a Shot: whenever you exclaim, “What the fuck?”
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
For reasons I can’t really explain, it’s taken me close to a decade to complete Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. I certainly appreciated the genius of his Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and magnum opus Oldboy when I caught each of them several years apart, but perhaps I took so long to finish it because, well, can you think of a more depressing trilogy to marathon?
That level of angst doesn’t set in until number four here.
In Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is released from prison and goes straight into revenge mode. She took the fall for Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik) after a kidnapping attempt ends in murder, losing her daughter to adoption in the process, and she’ll stop at nothing to make him pay for the life he stole.
While it may not have reached the same heights of global popularity as Oldboy or even Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance is every bit their equal, but pitched in a different register. Park Chan-wook once again brings his singular dark, almost gothic style, here pushing it to operatic heights that reminded me a bit of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal.
Choi Min-sik would give Mads Mikkelsen a run for his sociopathic money, too
The tone, however, is different from the other two films in the trilogy- it’s heightened, even weirdly comic. In a lot of ways, from occasional narration (Lee’s daughter as an old woman?) to Choi Seung-hyun’s baroque Vivaldi-esque score, to the almost playful time-hopping chronology, Lady Vengeance is a fucked up fairytale, like a psychotic revenge-obsessed Amelie with a garnish of Orange is the New Black filtered through the direction of Thirst’s unique worldview.
Carrying the film is Lee Yeung-ae’s turn as an almost perversely matter of fact, meticulous, and singularly driven Countess of Monte Cristo. This role was a huge departure for her, which blew audiences’ minds at the time. Think a less famous Sandra Bullock laying a serial killer, or hey, Piper becoming a ruthless wrecking ball of vengeance.
You’re so fucked, Larry.
The rest of the cast also does well, with so many familiar faces popping up (Song Kang-ho!) that Lady Vengeance feels like a Vengeance Trilogy reunion. Choi Min-sik, though, is the standout, a truly depraved wolf in sheep’s clothing of a primary school teacher. It’s as skin-crawling of a role as he’s done, and he was in I Saw the Devil.
That oddly comic tone eventually turns sour at points, particularly in the end, where a brutal retribution is essentially played for laughs. I’m not saying I didn’t chuckle here and there, but Park Chan-wook’s refusal to take this scene seriously means that you can’t take the whole film seriously. Perhaps this is what he’s after, a meta-commentary on the whole trilogy if you will (see: fucked up fairytale above), but it left a slight bitter taste in my mouth afterwards.
Regardless, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is an engrossing, stylish, and fitting capper for one of cinema’s most audacious trilogies. Just don’t marathon them…