The Balanced Bizarre

If you’re not keeping up with my 100 movies per year challenge, just know that I’m trying to watch a little of everything, and in the course of the last year and a half, I’ve wondered if anything will surprise me after this or that film. I watched Dogtooth in 2012 and figured that had set the bar for surprises. Then I watched V/H/S and Audition last year and changed my mind. This year, I watched Antichrist and figured that, okay, for real this time, I had seen it all. It’s not the violence that surprises me, even though these sometimes wander into a snufflike territory where you’re not sure what’s real (Dogtooth, in particular, did not feel like acting to me so much as an artfully filmed documentary about exquisite pain).

My newest surprise was Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I’d seen Oldboy last year, so I wasn’t surprised by the violence (this one might even be a little less violent overall than Oldboy). What I wasn’t expecting was how delicately the movie was filmed, even as horrific violence was being committed–the murder of children, the protagonist being beaten brutally in an alley, the final reckoning with the declawed villain. This whole movie is pretty. 

The shot that sealed my delight with the film is about midway through. The heroine, Geum-ja, goes to Australia to find her daughter, who was given up for adoption as an infant. Jenny, the daughter, wants to come back to visit Korea with her birth mother. When Geum-ja refuses, the movie cuts to a shot of Jenny standing stock-still, pointing a knife to her own throat, as her terrified parents and a weeping Geum-ja look on. It’s morbid as all hell, but also kind of funny, just because it’s so ridiculous. The whole movie’s like this. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino had asked Wes Anderson to edit together something he’d made–Anderson’s signature preciseness and subdued absurdity shaping an insanely violent story about a kickass woman seeking revenge. Park Chan-Wook keeps the bizarre in balance, and I love him for it.

I bought Stoker on DVD a while back, and still haven’t watched it, but now it seems pretty clear that I need to. Let’s see how it holds up to his revenge triology, huh?



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