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Date with this "Lady" won't be a lot of fun
Special to The Seattle Times
The elegantly designed opening credits are the best thing about Park Chan-wook's "Lady Vengeance," suggesting a stylish neo-noir with blood as the main ingredient. Unfortunately it's all downhill from there, as the third installment of Park's "Vengeance" trilogy unfolds with inevitable unpleasantness.
Granted, you don't watch "Asian Extreme" cinema for its redeeming values, and those who've seen the previous films in Park's trilogy (2002's "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and 2003's overrated "Oldboy") will appreciate in-jokes and connective threads that lend coherence to Park's ambitiously intricate story lines. Viewed outside of their Korean sociopolitical context, however, Park's films irritate more than resonate. For some viewers, "Lady Vengeance" is likely to be a numbing ordeal.
In all fairness, "Lady" improves once you've settled into its complex, time-hopping narrative. It begins when the anti-heroine Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is released after serving a 13-year prison sentence for kidnapping and killing a 5-year-old boy. She was innocent, despite giving a fervent confession, and plots revenge on the actual killer — a kindergarten teacher (played by "Oldboy's" Choi Min-sik) — with a strategy that involves several of her fellow former inmates.
"Lady Vengeance," with Lee Young-ae and Choi Min-sik. Directed by Park Chan-wook, from a screenplay by Park and Chung Seo-kyung. 112 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexuality, language. In Korean with English subtitles. Neptune.
The film's choppy first half is cluttered with prison flashbacks and character histories, elaborately illustrating Geum-ja's transformation from "Angel" (her prison nickname) to a coldhearted retaliator known as "The Witch," who commissions the manufacture of a crudely powerful pistol that she'll put to good use. (She test-fires it on a puppy, reminding us that Park is the same provocateur who featured, in "Oldboy," Choi eating a live octopus before hammering the skulls of two enemies.)
Apart from Park's impressive but ultimately hollow style (his images are impeccably composed and visually inventive), "Lady Vengeance" is still an exercise in wretched excess (though less extreme than its predecessors).
When Geum-ja gathers the grieving, raincoated parents of murdered children (looking like the splatter-proofed front row of a Gallagher concert) and invites them to indulge violent acts of collective revenge, Park's relative discretion is little comfort to those (like yours truly) who'll be wondering, "Why should I be watching this?"
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company