Saturday, February 9, 2013

Women in Horror: Lady Vengeance

19 year old Geum-Ja Lee confesses to the kidnapping and murder of a young boy and spends thirteen and a half years in prison. Unfortunately, she is actually innocent of the crime, but confessed to keep her own child safe from the real kidnapper and murderer. She became infamous as a monster with an angelic face. While in jail, she very publicly found religion and helped many other women. When she was released from jail, she takes steps to put her life back together and exact her revenge against Mr. Baek, the man who kidnapped and threatened her child. Geum-Ja slowly and carefully puts together her revenge by calling in as many favors as she can with the inmates she helped while reconnecting with her daughter.

Geum-Ja is viewed and judged by many people throughout the film, but few know her for who she really is. First, she is known as a monster after confessing to the kidnapping and murder of the little boy. The case is sensationalized, shown by the particular vigor and excitement the press had when she re-enacted the murder scene and the way the public romanticizes her by mimicking her fashion. Of course, she is characterized in this way because of the stereotypical view of women as meek, maternal, and loving and because of her beauty and air of innocence. This crime flies in the face of all of that and would not have made such a splash if a man been charged of the same crime. The public is obviously both fascinated and appalled with Geum-Ja and her heinous crime.

Once in jail, Geum-Ja turns her entire image around. After finding religion and publicly advocating for the healing power of prayer in jail, she helps many of her fellow inmates in significant ways. She poisons the prison bully with bleach over the course of three years to save the women she harrassed; a heartsick inmate finds solace, healing, and a kidney with her; she takes care of an elderly ex-spy with Alzheimer's when no one else wants to; and she comforted and supported other women as well. Her new nickname became "Kind Hearted Geum-Ja" and she is widely viewed as a saint. Another inmate even remembers her serene face radiating divine light. All of Geum-Ja's kind acts seem selfless, but she carefully gained these women's favor in order to call in favors after she got out of prison.

Once out of prison, Geum-Ja's image changes again. Outside the prison, she rejects and alienates the religious that see her as a role model. She wears blood red eyeshadow and dresses in black to destroy her kind hearted reputation. Her beatific smile and all pretense of serenity are gone. Every single person she sees comments on either her change of dress or demeanor because it is so vastly different than the saintly persona she adopted in prison. Geum-Ja tries to put together some semblance of a life by working at a bakery and reconnecting with her daughter while putting together her long planned revenge by calling on the help of the women in her debt. Revenge is within her grasp when she realizes there was more than one child victim. She gets the families together, shows them proof that Mr. Baek killed their children, and offers them the chance to either turn him in to the police or exact a more personal vengeance.

Through most of the film, Geum-Ja is defined by the perception of those around her, but she actually isn't completely good or evil. She is a flawed person who makes mistakes, but does what she thinks is right. Her 14 year vengeance plan worked, but in a different way than she envisioned. She sacrificed her own need for vengeance so that the people most hurt by him could exact theirs. This is the moment where she truly commits a selfless act of kindness. Afterwards, her new life is started with a clean slate, symbolized by the white cake she buries her face in.

Everything in the film works together beautifully. Yeong-ae Lee's performance as Geum-Ja is amazing. She captures each stage of Geum-Ja's story perfectly captures the emotions of each scene with her facial expressions. I was blown away by her range and depth as she carried much of the film on her own. The score, both the adapted baroque pieces and newly composed, adds an elegance that matches the beautiful cinematography. I highly recommend this brutal, but ultimately hopeful film.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

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