Well, I’m wrapping up Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy with this film. After Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, both of which I gave four stars, I’m looking forward to seeing what I hope will be an intriguing twist on the revenge genre: a female centered film. Well, it doesn’t top Oldboy, which is easily the best of the trio, but it’s brilliant in its own way. The film is kind of like a high school reunion or something. Practically every major player in Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance appears in this film, which is a lot of fun. The film is strange, of course, but it isn’t as gonzo and energetic as Oldboy, nor as restrained and classically done as Mr. Vengeance.
Well, anyway, it’s the story of a woman being released after being imprisoned for thirteen years after pleading guilty to a crime she didn’t commit, a particularly vile crime, the kidnapping and brutal murder of a six year old child. That’s right – it’s the one repulsive, horrible, disturbing thing that wasn’t in Oldboy: child murder. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Anyway, as the film progresses we’ll discover why she pled guilty and watch as her carefully plotted plan for vengeance goes awry in genuinely surprising ways. It’s a cleverly plotted film, and like the other films in the trilogy, it’s a film that takes really interesting hairpin turns, typically at just the moment you think you see where the film is going. The film is extremely dark, grim and disturbing. Chan-wook’s direction remains compelling and there are plenty of the strange, surprising touches that one gets in his films. It’s also a film with a surprising spiritual element; neither of the other films really got into that area, suffice that one incredibly heartbreaking prayer scene in Oldboy, but much of this film is taken up with the idea of the soul and the paths that lead it to either darkness or light. The supporting cast is really great. Choi Min-sik is very good in a surprisingly small role as the villain of the film; I wished he’d gotten more to do, but admittedly what he does is really phenomenal and totally different from his work in Oldboy. And I haven’t mentioned Lee Young-ae, who is incredibly great as the main character; she has to play her character at some very different points in her emotional journey and nails them all perfectly.
I watched it in one room while a friend was in the house doing other things. When I left the room, she said, “That sounded like the most horrible movie in history.” She meant horrible not as in poor quality; she meant it as in horrifying and disturbing. Well, not in history, but she’s definitely on the right track. There’s a scene here that, without spoiling, I can tell you is the equal of anything in the other two films, including the horrific climax of Oldboy. But, of course, it’s a masterpiece. I may eventually have to watch everything Chan-wook has done, frankly, even though Stoker was a disappointment. Buyer beware; inasmuch as my highly recommended films are essentially films I think everyone should watch, this one comes with a content warning. The bloody gore is less here than in the other two films, but that doesn’t diminish the incredible emotional impact. Not a date movie, but one you should see. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – a worthy completion to the director’s three-film exploration of revenge; dark, disturbing, merciless, but also stylish, brilliantly acted and deeply emotional. 4 stars.