Lady Vengeance (South Korea, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Lady Vengeance is the conclusion of South Korean director Park Chan-wook's "Revenge Trilogy." (The other two episodes: 2002's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and 2003's Oldboy.) Over the span of three films, Chan-wook has examined many aspects of the concept of revenge, including the most lasting: consequences. For many movies, the act of retribution is the point of the film. For Chan-wook, it's the starting point for a larger tapestry.

Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) has just been released from prison and is determined to exact revenge upon the man who put her there. Not only did jail steal years from her life, but Geum-ja was forced to give up her baby daughter for adoption. Now, calling in favors owed to her by other prisoners, she executes a complicated scheme that will re-unite her with her daughter and settle her score. Then she learns a terrible, and unexpected, truth. Revenge, while it may be just, turns out to be more bitter than sweet.

The first hour of Lady Vengeance unfolds like a mobius strip, skipping randomly through time and occasionally doubling back on itself. Patience is necessary; eventually the pace slows enough for us to catch up. There is a shift in tone during the second half as Lady Vengeance turns into a meditation on the ethics of revenge, and the question of whether we ever see things clearly enough to argue that "the end justifies the means." Anyone who has enjoyed the filmmaker's previous works, especially Oldboy (which received enough of a widespread U.S. distribution to become a cult movie), will appreciate what this film has to offer. I liked it, but a word of a caution to would-be viewers: Lady Vengeance contains violence (some extreme), but it is not an action film. It is deliberately paced, allowing the audience to have time to reflect upon what's happening. And the comedy is of the gallows variety.

Lady Vengeance (South Korea, 2005)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2006-04-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: English subtitled Korean
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1