Sunday, June 25, 2006

Movie: Lady Vengeance (2005, U.S. 2006)

Occasionally at the end of a movie’s title sequence, I’ll turn to Rosemarie and whisper, “Let’s go. It’s going to be all downhill from here.”

I was tempted to say that at the outset of Chan-wook Park’s latest film, but I knew better. Everything promised by the opening – expressive yet minimalist visuals, deft use of music – presaged what was to follow. (The movie is being released under this title in the U.S., but is still called Sympathy for Lady Vengeance onscreen.)

Park again turns the payback genre inside out here. A woman is released from prison after serving 13 years for her role in the kidnapping and death of a young child. To all appearances, she has turned over a new leaf while incarcerated. But that’s only stage one in a complex plan to destroy the man who is truly responsible.

The first half of the movie is extraordinary, shifting back and forth in time fluidly but with a formal elegance. A plot twist sends the story into unexpected, unpleasant and at times implausible territory. But it also becomes even more grounded in human behavior, and the film remains every bit as compelling because of it. The thematic perspective also widens, delving into redemption as well as revenge.

This is pulp storytelling for the 21st century. Melodrama elevated to the level of the operatic, violence and emotion fused and heightened, all of it delivered with Park’s startling command of the medium. The staggering Oldboy may be a better movie – if you haven’t seen it, rent it now, just brace yourself going in – but the skill on display in Lady Vengeance puts Park squarely on the short list of filmmakers (Pedro Almodovar, Neil Jordan) whose work I will not miss.

Miscellaneous: Minority Book Report

At a used book sale the other day, Rosemarie snagged a handful of old paperback thrillers for me. One of them was an entry in The Liquidator series by R. L. Brent. I can’t turn up much information on these books online. Anyone who can shed some light, feel free to chime in. (Yes, Bill Crider, I’m looking in your direction.)

A bit of paper fluttered out when I opened the book, a corner of a Newsweek page that the previous owner had used to mark his place. It trumpeted the marriage of “actor Tom Cruise, 24, and actress Mimi Rogers, 31” in upstate New York on May 9. To think we were all so young once.