Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2005) June 2, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films.
Korean Title: Chinjeolhan Geumja-ssi
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Cast: Lee Yeong-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kwon Yea-young
Park Chan-wook’s second win in the Cannes Film Festival not only validates his position in world cinema but also secures the heightened interest of people who are new to his films. Recognition from two different sets of jury means his win wasn’t a fluke, and the fact that he beat the man who almost gave him the Palme d’Or six years ago adds to the wind that waves the South Korean flag triumphantly in the West.
This following could prove to be disappointing for his Asian audience though, particularly to some of us who are used to the mix of drama and action that the Western critics find “very unique.” Park has big ideas and a cool way of presenting them but his storytelling dismembers these concepts and scatters them all over the place. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, the last installment of the Vengeance Trilogy that followed the hugely successful Old Boy, seeks completeness that it hasn’t found until the end. Somehow the potential of it being sold for a Hollywood remake and producing a hit is already its handsome payoff.
They say it’s good when a film offends you, for what has been agreed upon to be the filmmaker’s biggest nightmare is if he failed to elicit any type of reaction from his audience. That scene when Mr. Baek rapes his wife on the dining table is brutally offensive, even if Park himself defends that it is shown to assert Mr. Baek’s evil and misogyny. I already have that impression before the scene happens, the silence during the meal, the flashback of Geum-ja shooting him point-blank in the wintry background, and the empty eyes (Park’s talent is in his overflowing details) so I find the fabricated violence too much, not disturbing, but too much.
There is beauty in its violence but no balance; he spins unnecessary gimmicks left and right, he takes time to develop his action but to little avail, and he pushes his unrealism to the point of absurdity. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with these – – a competent director may have turn this quirkiness into a stunning piece – – but the film suffers from inconsistent dramatic execution. One doesn’t need to watch hundreds of films every year to be aware of that overstatement of violence; you just need to turn the TV on all day and fry your brain. I believe that is something that Park should learn to minimize, or at least handle maturely.
It is faulty, nevertheless it still has its share of brilliant moments, like when you start to ponder that in Korea the killers reenact their crime in front of the media, or towards the end when the families of the children whom Mr. Baek murdered watch the video and discuss whether or not to kill him themselves, or just the extreme silliness of the stream-of-consciousness flashbacks, the humor being the most valuable asset of Park’s films.
But festival luck is not only the thing on Park’s side. Of course he has talent, but the support that the Koreans give to him is also something to admire. The Koreans are very passionate about their cinema, and that’s something I wish we could also do with our own. Their films gross more than the Hollywood movies that screen in local theaters, and that’s not only during festival months. Even their regular screenings rakes in millions. Their filmmakers win abroad and they celebrate it. They feel proud, they continue doing films, they support them. And while the world is still stuck with doing what it believes is “original,” they never mind. Perhaps that’s too much to ask for the Filipino audience and filmmakers to do as well.