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the director -- named Jang Hyun-seong(19)

Time:2018-03-08 00:04Shoes websites Click:

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Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, if anything, will add more dry wood to the fierce bonfire of controversy surrounding Park's status as an artist as well as the real worth of his undeniably spellbinding films. Lady Vengeance unfolds in three sections. First, we see Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae, reuniting with Park after JSA [2000]) being released from prison after a 13-year sentence for the heinous crime of kidnapping and murdering a preschooler. From a series of flashbacks, we learn that she was revered as a saintly figure during her tenure in the female prison (hence the Korean title, "Kindly Miss Geum-ja"). Gradually, however, it is revealed that she is planning an elaborate revenge against Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik, star of Oldboy), the orchestrator of the kidnap scheme for which she was arrested and convicted. She half-threatens, half-cajoles her former fellow inmates to help her carry out the revenge. The second section deals with Geum-ja's implementation of the plan, the scope of which expands to include the retired detective once assigned to her case (veteran actor Nam Il-woo), Jenny, her estranged daughter adopted by an Australian couple, and a host of other characters. The final section focuses again on Geum-ja and what I would have to call the spiritual aftermath of her revenge against Mr. Baek.

Lady Vengeance is clearly a work of a major artist, evolving before our eyes and improving his finesse. When Park is on top of his myriad tools of cinematic expression, the results have always been breathtaking and it is no exception here. The detective's reunion with Geum-ja is depicted with progressively rapid cross-cutting, a virtuoso manipulation of images. Her face in one scene occupies a small patch in the right-side frame: I have never seen such an extreme angle shot since Sidney J. Furie's take of Michael Caine in Ipcress File (1965). One of the back-street passages in Seoul, shouldered by slanting stone walls, a ridiculously mundane landscape for Seoulites, is transformed into an almost Biblically sinister Valley of Death, pregnant with hellish gloom. Those, too, concerned with missing the deliriously whacked-out imagery and wild stylistic flourishes of Park's earlier two films need not worry. Even though Lady Vengeance is more leisurely paced and "gentler," still only in a Park Chan-wook film do we get not only a dog with a human face (a la the Phil Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1978]), but also a bullet entering the dog's brow and exiting through his, ah, terminal organ.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

The technical team Park has assembled is, as usual, top-notch. Cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hoon (Antarctic Diary) and lighting director Pak Hyun-won (Windstruck, Mr. Vengeance), reunited from Oldboy, had an even tougher job in Lady Vengeance, as it includes more shifts in color and tone, beginning with the slightly garish and jaundicedly "warm" chromatic scheme for earlier sequences. Also returning from Oldboy are composers Jo Young-wook and Choe Seung-hyun, who provide a delicate, deceptively "proper" score, based largely on strings (Vivaldi is heard again, but used much more subtly than in Oldboy). Production design recreates the unmistakable universe of Park Chan-wook, based on the recognizable clutter of everyday life, but ever so slightly alien, hypnotically unnerving, including Geum-ja's scarlet den complete with an altar flanked by crimson candles.

Ironically, one of the reasons for me not finding Lady Vengeance as stunningly original as Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy may well be the very factor that might grant it a wider acceptance in North America and Europe. In the second section, Geum-ja makes a choice that pushes the film into territory that I feel has been mined well by the likes of Andre Cayatte and Claude Chabrol, a development that nonetheless will be easier to access emotionally for Euro-American viewers: this type of issue is codified as "serious" in their minds (Do I sound cynical?). Moreover, performances of the (theatrically trained) actors here are truly excellent. They are so strong (especially the dignified grandmother played by Won Mo-won) that they overshadow Lee Young-ae.

This brings me to Lee's star turn as Geum-ja. I have once in another review compared her to Hara Setsuko, wondering if there might be a Korean director who could bring out hitherto unexplored qualities in her, the way Ozu Yasujiro did with Hara. Director Park has accomplished this. Lee, who appears in practically every frame of the movie, presents a character radically removed from her CF or TV drama personality: psychologically damaged, mired in guilt, and yet cold-heartedly manipulating others to accomplish her objectives. As guided by Park, Lee's portrayal of Geum-ja swerves between Isabelle Huppert in a Chabrol film and Catherine Deneuve under the direction of Luis Bunuel. As such, I found her femme fatale characterizations more satisfying than her performances in the "dramatic" sections, not that she is bad in the latter. When Lee, filmed from a low angle in front of a vanity mirror, throws her head back and laughs, or when she, after a night in bed with her boy-assistant (adorably fresh-faced Kim Shi-hoo), nonchalantly asks him, "It was okay for me. How about you?" she exudes fatalistic glamour all her own: alluring, cool and somehow sorrowful. In these and other scenes, her devastating beauty made me feel like a cockroach crawling on a linoleum floor, looking up at her. I wish Lee Young-ae was allowed to be more Deneuve than Huppert, but her fans (who may well be the film's biggest constituency, globally speaking) will not be disappointed.

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