The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Article removed for revision and publication. Wish the author luck!


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Fascinating analysis, Andrew. I don't know if I could bear to see this, but I enjoyed your take on it. You're building quite a portfolio on Park Chan Wook.

Wed Aug 29, 12:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I've got some of these in my netflix queue now, can't wait to see them. Thanks, Andrew.

Wed Aug 29, 03:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Jonah Dempcy said...

I disagree with the ending. She cannot have moral redemption because she has lowered herself to the level of the killer. She is no better than him and this is evinced when she witnesses the ghost of the boy, and right when she is about to fulfill her fantasy and achieve moral redemption, he stuffs a ball gag in her mouth just like she did to the killer. It is this reversal which teaches the same lesson of vengeance never solving anything. I disagree with your statement that when "the assembled relatives line up to dispense some vigilante justice, you will be in line with them." Quite the opposite, I was sickened, and I think showing the relatives all visibly shaken and utterly destroyed by their experience is not meant to be a "hurrah" for the good guys. It shows them sinking to the level of the killer, even when they should rationally know better. One of the parents laments, "This won't bring back our kid will it, honey?" then continues to torture the killer.

I like Park Chan Wook's films for taking the wind out of the sails of the audience, for demystifying revenge. Unlike Dirty Harry or one of these macho Hollywood revenge sagas we are all so familiar with, Park Chan Wook's films shows a very complex dynamic.

In his films, the characters feel guilty, but cannot accept their guilt for having made a mistake, so instead reject and project it outwards onto others. They make the others their fetish, or fixation of desire in their revenge fantasy. But you'll notice in Lady Vengeance that the fantasy is not fulfilled. The film drains from color to black and white and Geum-ja's fantasies come to anticlimaxes. When she finally shots the killer as she has fantasized earlier in the film (notably making her happy earlier in the film), she achieves none of the satisfaction -- the illusion is gone and she is left with lonely, drab reality. The scene of the parents wanting their money back also has to do with this; the return from mystical romanticized illusion of vengeance to the cold hard reality.

I think in all three of the films, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, we see characters unable to accept their own culpability and driven by a guilty conscience. Instead of dealing with it, they are driven to project it outwards in an obsession with revenge. And I love how Park Chan Wook takes the wind out of the viewers' sails. In all three films he does this. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the audience may want for the good-natured deaf and dumb lead to have his vengeance on the evil gangsters who stole his kidney, "causing" the horrible chain of events that transpire in the film. But Park takes the wind out of our sails-- the vengeance is never justified. The hard truth is that it was his own fault.
Similarly, some people (I don't know who, but I am hypothesizing) may be rooting for the father character to take vengeance on his daughter's killers. I would never root for this character but I have read reviews which saw him as the hero (more like psycho!), but even if you were rooting for this character you have the wind taken from your sails when you realize he is lowered to the level of a sadistic murderer through the corrupting power of his inner drive for vengeance (and inability to cope, as seen at his daughter's funeral when he is emotionless).

In Oldboy, he takes the wind out of the sails with the surprise twist which I certainly won't reveal here. But suffice it to say that right where Hollywood would have the protagonist kick the villain's ass, there is a traumatic reversal that effectively destroys the protagonists reality and shows that he is no better than the villain.

In Lady Vengeance, I believe that he may have been ambiguous about it during the murder scenes but is unambiguous when Geum-ja confronts the apparition of Won-mo in the bathroom towards the end. When she attempts to fulfill the illusion-desire-fantasy of her redemption, it is canceled by the same object (the ball gag) she used to torture the killer, clearly showing that her drive for revenge prevented her from being redeemed.

I interpret the ending where she buries her face in the cake to be that she has utterly failed. She wants nothing more than to be redeemed but whereas the other two pure spirits with her can look up to God and smile, she only looks at God and feels judgement. She cannot embrace the beauty of the moment, she does not open her mouth to take snowflakes, she will carry the burden and stain of her sin until the rest of her life ... that's my interpretation, sorry if it's a downer!

Fri Feb 13, 06:45:00 am GMT-5  

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