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Lady Vengeance   (released 3/22/2006)
By Neil Norman

Director Chan-wook Park is represented again at the Florida Film Festival with his last episode in the Vengeance Trilogy, Lady Vengeance. Every time I see one of this guy's films, it blows my mind. Park is at the crest of the New Wave of Korean Cinema movement that has made waves in America in the last few years. Originally made popular in cult film circles by films like Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the auteur director hit the big time in mainstream exposure with Oldboy (which screened at both the Florida Film Festival and Sundance in 2005).

Like the first two films in the Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy), Lady Vengeance is a revenge tale that reveals itself by bits and pieces. Park's motif of keeping the audience from all the details makes his film suspenseful, because you don't really know what is going on until he drops the final hints before the climactic payoff scene.

Geum-ja Lee, the Lady Vengeance played by a willowy Yeong-ae Lee, is imprisoned for 13 years for her role as an accomplice in a kidnapping and brutal murder of a child. We first see her in the company of Santa-suited carolers (Park is excellent at choosing surreal images to counterbalance the thematic tone of his scenes). Geum-ja Lee is conflicted between her desire to stay in the spiritual company of her halfway house sisters and her need to enact the vengeance she has been planning throughout her incarceration. She emphatically chooses to seek her vengeance, using contacts of other girls that have been released from jail to help her along the way.

The film is far from linear, jumping back and forth from the present, to flashbacks (the prison term segment is the best "women in prison movie" I've seen in years.), to dream sequences. But the disjointed editing and jumping around have a purpose. Instead of events coming together slap your head, Sixth Sense sort of way (like Oldboy did), I believe Park purposefully mixes the sequence up to maintain a distance from the narrator. This film is not meant to have the audience connect with the protagonist, but to enable us to watch the story of someone seeking vengeance so that we can reflect on the philosophical dilemma that those types of situations impose. Instead of being a root for the heroine kind of film, Park causes us to ponder the idea of revenge and whether it is right or wrong. Vengeance is served by the end of the film, but in a way you probably can't predict.

Park impresses me as a director heavily influenced by Kubrick. The classical score juxtaposed with gruesome acts of violence, taboo subject matter, and fascination with the workings of the human mind are all elements reflected in his films, just like Kubrick's. Lady Vengeance is a brilliant film, and I highly recommend it along with the rest of Park's Vengeance Trilogy. Chan-wook Park, the most talented director to come out of Korea since Ki-duk Kim, is surely a star on the rise.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

Lady Vengeance plays as part of the Florida Film Festival at the Winter Park Regal Cinemas on Saturday, April 1st at 7:00PM and on Sunday, April 2nd at 6:30PM.

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