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With: Lee Yeong-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Si-hu, Nam Il-woo, Nam Byeong-ok
Written by: Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-kyung
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
MPAA Rating: R for strong violent content - some involving children, and some sexuality
Language: Korean with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 29/07/2005

Lady Vengeance (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Lady' in Red

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Park Chan-wook establishes himself as the superstar of Korean action cinema this week with Lady Vengeance, the conclusion of his "revenge trilogy." Most Bay Area fans probably started with the second episode, Oldboy (2003), followed by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002). (They were released here in that order in 2004.) That's probably a good thing, as Sympathy proved almost too random and pointless to be paired with the stunning Oldboy.

Fortunately, despite its title, Lady Vengeance has more in common with Oldboy in both its themes and its execution. It begins as beautiful thirty-something Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) emerges from a 13-year prison term, convicted for kidnapping and killing a five year-old boy. Her supposed redemption turns out to be a clever ruse, and she sets in motion a long-seeded plan for -- you guessed it -- revenge.

It turns out she had very little to do with the kidnapping. Her partner in crime, Mr. Paek (Choi Min-sik, the grizzled star of Oldboy) turned on her, kidnapping her baby daughter and forcing her to take the fall. During her 13 years in prison, she performed several favors (including murder) for fellow inmates, and now calls for their return. One grateful cohort actually goes so far as to marry Mr. Paek to keep close tabs on him.

Donning blood-red eye shadow, Lee Geum-ja moves elegantly and single-mindedly through the snowy Korean night, brandishing her chic close-range gun, drawing ever closer to her quarry. Park craftily melds flashbacks with the present to explain Geum-ja's time in prison and how she came to earn the trust and cooperation of these fellow prisoners. Each sequence crackles, and even the transitions show a fierce energy, rapidly burning.

Lady Vengeance remains crisp and snappy for a good long run, until we get to the twist. It's not a mind-staggering twist like at the climax of Oldboy, but simply a turn toward a much darker and more horrifying reality. If anything, Lady Vengeance becomes a bit somber, wading as it does through its heartbreaking "amber alert" plot. Park respectfully allows the movie to wrap up at its own pace, even if it seems to go on a bit long and does not match the rhythmic high of the first two-thirds.

But it's this last segment that sticks. Geum-ja's revenge, as well as re-bonding with her 13-year-old daughter (adopted by a pair of sweet, silly Australians), become more than plot twists. They become actual questions, hard choices that Park's deliberate pacing gives us time to really ponder. This edge pushes Lady Vengeance into the trilogy's top spot and points to a bright future for Park.

DVD Details: Tartan Video's excellent DVD, released under its "Asian Extreme" wing, comes with three commentary tracks. The first two, in Korean with subtitles, are with director Park. On the first one, lead actress Lee Yeong-ae joins him, and on the second, the cinemtographer and art director do the same. The third track -- and a sure sign of cinematic quality -- is by Richard Pena, the program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Pena's last commentary track was for Manoel de Oliveira's masterpiece I'm Going Home, so he knows of what he speaks. Additionally, we get interviews, a making-of featurette and trailers.

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