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Oldboy is probably one of my favourite movies. Director Park Chan-wook fashioned star Choi Min-sik into a brutally original avenging anti-hero in the soon-to-be-classic comic-based tale of revenge. Oldboy was the second part in Park Chan-wook’s fabled revenge trilogy, following on from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Now, completing the trilogy, comes Lady Vengeance, which sees him reunited with Lee Young-ae, whom he worked with on JSA: Joint Security Area, and Oldboy’s star Choi Min-sik. Get ready for another painful journey of revenge.

Lady Vengeance

Feature


Lee Geum-ja has just spent thirteen years in prison for suffocating a child in her care with a pillow. Since it was a crime that she did not commit, she is more than a little upset about her incarceration. Going into the jail a sweet picture of innocence, a key member of the local church group with no history of violence or misbehaviour, prison was a shock to her system and the only way she could survive was by cultivating a more cunning, evil spirit within her. She spent the thirteen years planning her revenge, befriending various inmates that she felt would prove useful on the outside and biding her time.

On the outside everything has changed, but her memories of the horrors that have befallen her have not faded and so she puts her plan into action. First she has to get a gun, then she has to get to the truth behind her incarceration—she knows the why, she just needs to know how far the conspiracy goes. Then she has to find her target, a primary school teacher who is taking a rather close interest in his subjects. But before she can reach the end of her journey, a face from the past unexpectedly reappears.

Lady Vengeance is a worthy conclusion to Park Chan-wook’s seminal revenge trilogy, taking a female protagonist this time and putting through the motions of innocence, victimisation, horror, anger, revenge and potential redemption. Although I don’t think it is quite as memorable as Oldboy you can still clearly see Park’s style and his classic revenge theme running throughout (as well as his squirm-inducing scenes, like the octopus in Oldboy, here best exemplified by the disgustingly torturous swimming pool sequence) instantly making it a must-see addition to the recent bevy of Korean classics.

Lady Vengeance
Lee Young-ae (from JSA) does a superb job as the pivotal lead character, Lee Geum-ja, who transforms from a sweet angel into an avenging angel after thirteen years of brooding time. The lead ‘villain’ is our very own Oldboy, the excellent Choi Min-sik, who keeps on broadening his repertoire by taking on successive against-type roles. Whether comedian, cop or relentless avenger, I’ve never seen him in such a villainous, evil part. He is worryingly convincing, making me hark for the days of Oldboy, where he was at least a little more sympathetic.

I keep talking about Oldboy because after watching Lady Vengeance, I felt obliged to draw comparisons, and unfortunately the result is a certain feeling of disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve already stated, this is still another nouvelle classic from Korea which should not be missed, but there are a few things lacking from making it as outstanding as Oldboy. Most important amongst these is the element of surprise. Sure, the plot evolves in a similar flashback-orientated way, with viewers being cleverly fed the story of Lee Young-ae’s incarceration piece by piece, but as soon as she starts taking steps towards confronting her oppressor, everything becomes terribly predictable.

Lady Vengeance
Even if there are still a couple of surprises in store, Park Chan-wook takes far too long mulling over them for viewers to sustain interest. The last third of the movie feels like it could have easily been trimmed down by ten minutes or so, wholly unlike the sick-twist-strewn concluding chapter of Oldboy. But, it is a minor complaint when you consider the overall high quality of this trilogy. All in all, if you liked the first two parts then you can’t afford to miss this one.

Video


Lady Vengeance is presented in a decent 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is good throughout, with consistent clarity and little noticeable softness. There is some grain, but nothing really to take away from your viewing pleasure. The colour scheme is quite faded, which is a bit of a shame really, but still some of the tones manage to shine through and blacks are certainly deep and solid throughout. If you compare it to some of the ‘vintage’ flashback footage used, you can see a definite difference in quality (which, I assume, was the intention) and apart from this, the transfer exhibits no discernible print defects. It’s worth noting, however, that this is yet another NTSC to PAL transfer from Tartan UK.

Lady Vengeance

Audio


The movie comes with several soundtrack options, all in the original Korean language. The DTS 5.1 track is the one that really stands out, although the Dolby 5.1 effort is almost as good, with the Dolby 2.0 track having obvious disadvantages, not least in terms of aural dynamics. For the six-speaker tracks we get clear dialogue dominating the frontal array, with plenty of little effects (and a few bigger noises, like gunshots) dotted throughout, from murmuring bar noises to bustling press going crazy with their cameras. The score is reminiscent of Park Chan-wook’s other Vengeance movies (particularly Oldboy) although it does have more of an overly classical sound to it this time, at times seeming like it would be better placed in a period piece. I don’t know why Oldboy’s classical pieces did not give me the same impression, but here the music does often lapse into farce (possibly intentionally). It all sounds good through the surrounds though and the tracks are solid, if unexceptional, efforts.

Extras


The only major extra is an interview with the director, Park Chan-wook, where he talks for a mammoth forty minutes about the movie, answering various questions about casting, his themes of revenge and his own attitude to revenge. There is an interpreter on board who translates his every word (effectively doubling the time for this interview in comparison with subtitle use) but it is very interesting to hear from the director, particularly when he is talking about his Hitchcockian style of counter-casting, but a subtitled commentary would have probably been quite interesting as well.

Apart from that, all we get are a Tartan trailers for the new special edition of Battle Royale 2, the excellent Korean drama A Bittersweet Life and Another Public Enemy.

Lady Vengeance

Overall


Lady Vengeance is a superior revenge thriller helmed by the master revenge auteur Park Chan-wook. Starting fantastically, it ends with a slightly protracted anticlimax, although that does not detract too much from the fact that it is still a quality movie that is well worth your time. Video and audio are pretty good, but extras are slightly thin on the ground, the extended interview really being the only addition. For those who have picked up the other titles in Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy, you simply must have this to complete the collection, and for anybody who likes Oldboy or even modern classic revenge movies like Kill Bill, this is sure to provide a great deal of entertainment.


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