Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Newsflash – Male movie director acknowledges that women are people!

So last night I watched Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (often referred to as a more intelligent Kill Bill). I was reluctant to do so, actually, given that I’d already seen one of the movies in vengeance trilogy (Oldboy) and, although I can acknowledge its merit on all kinds of technical movie geek levels I can’t say I actually enjoyed it. For those who may not watch a lot of movies, or at least non-American movies, Korean cinema has been going through an interesting period recently. There have been a spate of shock horror movies and thrillers so bloody and startling and generally violent that they make Reservoir Dogs look like the Telletubbies. Think Saw but with more interesting plots, and far more visceral punches to the gut and sociopolitical content. Oldboy is probably the most disturbing of the lot – the movie culminates with a scene where the lead character cuts out his own tongue in an attempt to persuade his tormentor not to tell the girl who he’s been having a relationship with that she’s actually his daughter (note that he himself didn’t know either until moments before). It’s gruesome on both a physical and an emotional level.
Oldboy was a bit much even for me, and I laughed at the scene in Audition where the girl was poking needles in people’s eyes (it was the sound she was making that set me off). Audition is the movie that famously scared the crap out of Rob Zombie, so let’s just say that my tolerance is pretty high. So, word to the wise – Oldboy is not for everyone. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, on the other hand, I loved unreservedly, and I think every one of my online buddies should see it.
Here’s why. Good God, the female characters in this movie are actual characters! With emotions and motivations and the ability to both do wonderful things and completely fuck up and everything! It even passes the Mo Movie test! There are actually only four significant male characters in this movie, and about a dozen female characters. And the female lead does (arguably) bad things and gets away with them! The audience is supposed to identify with her, not with any of the men. And yet it’s not The Joy Luck Club – the male characters aren’t stereotyped assholes either. There’s one who’s an absolute monster, one who’s probably the kindest character in the movie, and two who are flawed in normal, predictable ways. The female characters are well drawn and utterly human – even the prostitute is depicted in a sympathetic light, and she’s one of the most vital links in bringing the villain to justice. The movie is also visually stunning – the heroine’s red shoes clicking through the snow, a book of Buddhist sutras that turns out to actually be the design specs for a gun, the gleeful grin on the heroine’s face as she holds up a simple bar of soap used to lay a sexual predator low, the scene where the she sees the five little charms on the villain’s cell phone and realizes what that means, the moment where a group of bereaved relatives are deciding what punishment to inflict upon the villain and the camera pans slowly along wires to show him sitting in a room bound and gagged, forced to listen to every word being said.
I can’t really give an outline without ruining the plot, because there are two McGuffins, one of which even my movie student SO didn’t see coming. Parts of the movie are so gut-wrenching it’s almost physically painful, and other parts are darkly funny. There’s a mother/daughter relationship that will make you cry. The ending is morally complex to say the least, and I’m willing to bet that the audience will be about evenly split in terms of those who think that the punishment meted out to the villain is just and those who will be horrified. That’s why I’m recommending this movie so highly, really – it’s intense and complex and deeply emotionally satisfying. I defy anyone not to identify with the heroine to some degree. Most of all, how often do you see a movie in which the idea that a woman is entitled to seek vengeance when she is wronged is simply taken as a given, in which she is capable of both planning and executing it, and in which despite all of this the audience is not supposed to view her as unnatural and “unfeminine” but as a real person capable of both error and redemption?
Absolutely stunning. Get thee to Netflix and rent this movie ASAP.

Side note – The Wikipedia entry for this movie is truly asinine and completely misses the point the director was trying to make in its haste to babble about cold, cunning women (sigh). Ignore it. It also contains major spoilers.

Update – I checked out some more reviews and holy shit a lot of men missed the point! I keep seeing guys bitching about how the movie sucked because the heroine was such a bad mother (she also kills someone by feeding her bleach, but apparently that’s a far lesser crime), or because she was sometimes cold and didn’t cry when the guys thought she should have, or because OMG the behavior in the woman’s prison was just so nasty! And then there was the guy who complained about the scene where one of the prisoners is forced to go down on another (who then gets her comeuppance in a delightful manner), and didn’t even mention the scene where the villain imposes sex upon his girlfriend in an equally repellant way. Guess men imposing sex on women is just less icky, somehow, or maybe it’s because we see a woman have an orgasm.
Yet another reason why everyone should see this movie – sexist dudes hate it.


Arwen said...

Mo Movie Test passer (of a sort), Stranger than Fiction.
Yes, two women do talk to each other about a man, but only incidentally in the course of work. Not romantically. I just loved Emma Thompson's character.

Cassandra Says said...

I think it's OK if they talk about a man as long as that's not ALL they talk about (for example, in the movie I'm recommending several women talk to each other about how to KILL a man).

Zan said...

*bumbling off to Netflix* This sounds like a movie I'd love. Danke!

Veronica said...

OMG. I got through Oldboy, and could only think "What the fuck is wrong with the person that wrote that?" My husband vetoed Audtion, but... I'll check out Lady Vengeance. I really, really hated Kill Bill, though.

petitpoussin said...

And... added!

Cassandra Says said...

V - After watching Oldboy the SO and I went digging through our DVDs looking for something silly to watch to cheer ourselves up. It was pretty gruesome. Lady Vengeance isn't nearly as violent, most of the violence happens offscreen.
I actually loved Audition. There's a social commentary aspect to it that most feminists would probably appreciate - the guy who hold an Audition supposedly to find an actress but actually to find a girlfriend must die! The one character in the movie who is actually a decent human being (his kid) gets away without a scratch.

Cassandra Says said...

Zan - Enjoy! PS, I added a specifically boys doing suggestive things together section to my photobucket for Scarlet PervyGirl that you might want to check out...
petitpoussin - thanks!

Crankshaft said...

Now this sounds interesting... :)