He Had It Coming

While this South Korean movie might not be popular in America now, it is the kind that generates a good buzz and become a cult film in its own right. I’m basing this on the assumption that the film will follow the director’s previous work, “Oldboy.” That film had a ridiculously insane plot but boasts some of the most brilliant scenes of last year.

This year, it’s time to greet “Lady Vengeance.” It tells the operatic story of Geum-ja, who, at 19, is jailed for kidnapping and murdering a little boy. While in prison, she goes through a Christian transformation and consequentially, dubbed “kind-hearted” by fellow inmates because she’s angelically nice and helpful. But once released after 13 years of incarceration, she seems so cold and numb. The woman has worn bloody red eye shadow and is bent on exacting a magnificent revenge on a man who has wronged her.

Just like “Oldboy,” the movie has a knack for style, with symphonic scores, kinetic editing, and doses of grotesque violence and humor. Viewing it also requires attentiveness since numerous flashbacks come in and go as they please. But once you get into the movie’s exhilarating rhythm and bizarre tone, “Lady Vengeance” is a refreshing motion picture to watch. The movie reminded me of “Kill Bill” (vengeful woman), “Chicago” (tales of women in prison), and of course, “Oldboy” for its radical exploration of revenge. And yet despite some similarities from other movies, “Lady Vengeance” comes off as one of the most unique movies I’ve seen this year.

Praising “Lady Vengeance” wouldn’t be complete without a special mention of the leading lady. The central performance by Lee Yeong-ae is both mordantly funny and harrowingly ripe. At one point, the actress nails a shot where she must exhibit layered emotions of aching joy. Director Chan-wook Park is masterful in triggering emotions. I was quite amazed by the depth and range of the film’s emotional journey. By the time the movie arrives at its third act, I couldn’t help but be impressed. This isn’t a film that plays safe. It goes to extreme places that few movies ever venture. And yet at the same time, the film never once plays like a cheap stunt. When “Lady Vengeance” goes over the edge, it refuses to take the Wile E. Coyote plunge. Rather, it suspends like an overpowering thought.

Grade: A

Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Su-hee Go, Dal-su Oh, Shi-hoo Kim, Seung-Shin Lee, and Bu-seon Kim
Screenplay by
Seo-Gyeong Jeong
Chan-wook Park
Directed by
Chan-wook Park
Rated R for strong violent content – some involving children, and some sexuality