Classic International Movie: “Lady Vengeance”

October is classic international movies month. Today’s guest post comes from David Joyner.

Movie Title: Lady Vengeance

Year: 2005

Writers: Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-wook

Lead Actors: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik

Director: Park Chan-wook

Plot Summary: Beautifully shot and told in a non-linear fashion via a mixture of flashbacks and dialog, Lady Vengeance is the story of how protagonist Lee Geum-ja rights the wrongs in her world. The story (from the characters POV) begins with Lee Geum-ja’s unfortunately involvement with the kidnapping and murder of a 5 year old boy, Won-mo. The antagonist Mr. Baek not only murdered that young boy but kidnapped Lee Geum-ja baby girl and threatened to kill her too if Lee Geum-ja didn’t confess to Won-mo’s murder. She did and serves 13 years in prison. Her daughter was adopted by a kind couple in Australia. In prison, Lee Geum-ja underwent an apparent spiritual transformation earning her the nickname “Kind-Hearted Geum-Ja.” In fact, unknown to the prison authorities, she orchestrated n elaborate murder of the most aggressive (the “Witch”) of the inmates in her cell-block. This earned her both respect and a debt from the victims of the Witch, a debt that, when she is eventually released, that includes gifts of food, shelter, and weapons. Now free, Geum-ja discovers that her teenage daughter, now estranged and called Jenny, was adopted by Australian parents. They exchange letters and Jenny agrees to a short visit to South Korea to bond with her biological mother. Lee Geum-ja discovers Mr. Baek is now a children’s teacher at a children’s preschool and has continued his string of child murders. Unknown to him, Mr Baek has married an ex-convict Geum-ja planted with him. Mr. Baek is afraid of Geum-ja and tries to have Geum-ja and Jenny kidnapped by associates. In the ensuing battle, Geum-ja kills both kidnappers (with an ornately beautiful double-barrelled pistol), while Mr. Baek is subdued by his wife. Lee Geum-ja is distressed by the murders Mr Baek has caused while she was in prison and searches for clues as to who the victims are. She discovered Mr Baek’s cell phone is attached to a charm bracelet, which each charm represents a child he has killed. She uses that to track down the parents and relatives of the your children Mr Baek kidnapped, tortured and murdered. She gathers them all in an abandoned schoolhouse, where they all meet in a large classroom. The outraged group of parents and grandparents heatedly deliberates on Mr. Baek’s fate, tied up in a room nearby. They decide as a group to take turns torturing Mr Baek, they decide what weapons to use based on how their own child died, and who would be allowed to kill him (a grandmother using a pair of school scissors from her grandson’s classroom). The film ends with Lee Geum-ja giving her daughter a white cake and instructs her daughter to “live white” (a Korean symbol of purity). Jenny tastes the cake and says Geum-ja should live pure too. As the white snow falls around them, Geum-ja buries her face in the white cake, sobbing, while Jenny wraps her arms around her.

Why I Think This Is A Classic International Movie

This movie handles like no other the vengeance theme from the female perspective. It’s also a great example of Park Chan-wook’s brilliant use of visuals.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie

There are too many beautifully shot scenes to list! One of the most powerful is the group scene with the relatives of the murdered children in the abandoned school house. The aggressive camera work and (stage) play-like setting is very affective.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie

Lee Geum-ja is feeding the Witch in the prison hospital. Lee Geum-ja wears a yellow prison uniforn, which is the mark of a prisoner with good behavior. The Witch BELCHES into Lee Geum-ja’s face. Lee Geum-ja smiles sweetly.

WITCH: Sorry. Nasty, huh?
GEUM-JA: That’s quite all right. I enjoy helping you.
WITCH: Thanks, Geum-ja. You are really kind-hearted. You understand that I only like plump girls, right?
GEUM-JA: Of course. I’ll eat a lot and plump up for you. So, you just keep taking lots of food and medicine.

The Witch falls off her bed. Lee Geum-ja smiles sweetly.

GEUM-JA: Hurry up and die.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the visuals are great. The beautifully lit scene where Lee Geum-ja chases down her kidnappers with the ornate double-barrelled pistol reminds us of the more famous Kill Bill (from 2003) without at all being derivative. The climax scene, with all the relatives in gloves and raincoats preparing to kill Mr Baek, is unlike anything in any vengeance movie I’ve ever seen.

Trivia: It is the last in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance series (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldbooy, Lady Vengeance. Among several Asian film associations, the film was nominated for many awards (Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Lighting, Best Music, Best Editing, etc), and won Best Actress (Lee Young-ae), Best Film.

Thanks, David!

To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 30s movies, 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on classic international movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully more!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

A Prophet — Paul Graunke
Akira — Clay Mitchell
Amelie — Kevin Curran
Belle Epoque — Melinda Mahaffey
Cinema Paradiso — Traci Nell Peterson
Diabolique — Sherin Nicole
Jules et Jim — Susan Winchell
Kolya — Melinda Mahaffey
Lady Vengeance — David Joyner
Millennium Actress — Chris Neumann
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies — John Henderson
Reprise — Wally Marzano-Lesnevich
Seven Samurai — Will King
The Lives of Others — Paul Graunke
The Tenant — Marija Nielsen
This Man Must Die — Marija Nielsen

Looking for more volunteers, your chance to memorialize your favorite international movie and yourself as a contributor to our ongoing blog series on classic movies.

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