Seen Avengers Assemble and want an alternative take on revenge? South Korea has the answer.
When mainstream Western cinema tackles the topic of vengeance, which it does with unsurprising regularity, there isn’t usually much sophistication involved. A wife, husband, son or daughter will be slaughtered and the surviving family member(s) will hunt down the perpetrator(s) and return the favour.
Revenge provides a great way of justifying bloody violence, because the metamorphosis of otherwise docile protagonists into hate-fuelled assailants is made legitimate through a deeply embedded eye for an eye ideology. Moreover, with revenge achieved, balance can be restored. Which, when you think about it, cannot possibly reflect the real world.
Luckily South Korean director Park Chan-wook portrays payback as warped, complicated and far from nourishing in his Vengeance Trilogy, a loose collection of films released between 2002 and 2005.
The most famous of these is 2003′s cult hit Oldboy, which if you haven’t seen you will almost certainly have heard breathlessly discussed. It’s plot is quite high concept, with a man released from 15 years of perpetual imprisonment without being told why. As revenge against his spectral captors formulates, flashbacks and the affections of a younger woman cloud the issue, bringing the film to a conclusion that will leave you grinning at its warped ingenuity. Also there’s a scene with an octopus.
Oldboy is the most flamboyant and accessible of the trilogy. It’s predecessor, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, is a little more gut-wrenching because bereavement, loss and desperation gel to muddy the issue of righteousness in revenge. A man arranges the kidnap of a child in order to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant, setting in motion a series of events which create multiple interlaced tracts through which vengeful acts flow. There is sympathy and empathy, but it is mainly sadness which prevails.
Lady Vengeance, the third film in the trilogy, is more serene than its predecessors, although no less substantial in terms of subject matter. A plot involving child abuse and murder could be used to push some very obvious buttons, but there is little of the entitled pomposity that you might expect. Even when things take an Agatha Christie-eqsue turn towards the end, it never sails into generic waters.
So, go out and procure these movies, particularly if you’ve only watched Oldboy and want to see what Park Chan-wook can do when he’s not working from a Manga.