|Yeong-ae Lee in Lady Vengeance|
Mr. Baek: Min-sik Choi
Geun-shik: Shi-hoo Kim
Jenny: Yea-young Kwan
Director: Park Chan-wook*
Screenplay: Seo-kyeong Jeung, Park Chan-wook
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Production design: Hwa-seong Jo
Music: Seung-hyun Choi
Watched on Filmstruck
The plot of Lady Vengeance is at least as complicated and implausible as that of Park's Oldboy (2003), the film that precedes it in Park's "vengeance trilogy" that began with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), and it's made with the same attention to style. But the way it's worked out on screen though flashback dribbles of exposition feels needlessly complicated, and the culminating act of vengeance on the part of the families of the victims doesn't have the presumably intended emotional impact because it's spread out over too long a stretch. As a teenager, Geum-ja had become pregnant and, afraid to tell her parents, went to her teacher, Mr. Baek, for advice. He took her in and not only made her a sex slave but also enlisted her in his scheme to kidnap small children and hold them for ransom. She lured a 5-year-old boy, Won-mo, into Mr. Baek's clutches, and when the boy was accidentally killed, Mr. Baek forced Geum-ja to confess to the crime by threatening to kill her own child, a daughter, who was put up for adoption after Geum-ja's conviction. Released from prison after 13 years because she convinced the authorities that she had thoroughly reformed, Geum-ja sets out to take revenge on Mr. Baek. We learn that despite her apparently angelic behavior in prison, she actually bumped off some of the more repulsive inmates, causing one to take a fatal fall on a slippery floor and slowly poisoning another, thereby gaining the enduring support of her fellow prisoners. She calls in the favors she earned from some of these now released inmates so that she has the wherewithal to exact her revenge on the psychotic Mr. Baek, who has evolved into a serial killer of small children. The revenge, however, is anything but swift. The subplot involving Geum-ja's daughter, now called Jenny by her adoptive Australian parents, feels extraneous, as does Geum-ja's affair with a young man who is the exact age that Won-mo would have been if he had lived. I suppose Park has a thematic point about the corruption of innocence that he wants to make, but it isn't integrated into the rest of the film very well. As a commentary on the nature of revenge, Lady Vengeance doesn't have the resonance of Oldboy, and despite some imaginatively nightmarish scenes it seems like a mostly empty exercise in film technique.
*Park is so commonly referred to, even in Western media, with his surname first in Korean fashion that I have kept to that order. In other instances I have followed the Western order: given name first, family surname last.