The Daily Stream: Lady Vengeance Concludes Park Chan-Wook's Neo-Noir Vengeance Trilogy In A Subversively Feminist Fashion

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Lady Vengeance"

Where You Can Stream It: Kanopy, Tubi

The Pitch: Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy is an unofficial, yet highly regarded series of neo-noir films centered around, you guessed it, protagonists seeking vengeance for something that has happened to them. With "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," he crafted a story about two men's intersecting desire for revenge, and with "Oldboy," he introduced a wronged man that ends up falling down a path of inner and outer destruction. "Lady Vengeance," his 2006 trilogy concluder, is similar to these movies in a lot of ways. Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) has been released from prison after 13 years for a crime she didn't commit. After becoming a darling in the public eye for her apparent dramatic reformation, she utilizes her newfound freedom to track down those responsible for setting her up, and make them pay. However, the circumstances of her revenge plot are not as clear-cut as it seems. While "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Oldboy" are perfect in their own rights, it is "Lady Vengeance" that potentially serves as the best of the Vengeance Trilogy. Geum-ja is the most complicated and nuanced of the trilogy's antiheroes, and thanks to the collaborative efforts of Park and screenwriter Jeong Seo-kyeong, her story is powerful in a deeply gut-wrenching way.

Why it's essential viewing

It's important to note that this film marks the first collaboration between Park Chan-wook and Jeong Seo-kyeong, a partnership that has resulted in some of the director's best and most memorable work. In a way, you can tell based on how complex it is on a thematic level — it is a story about patriarchal abuse, the failures of police states, motherhood, and the adoption industry rolled into a slick, neo-noir package.

However, if you need one definitive reason to watch this film, it would have to be Lee's electric central performance. Lee Geum-ja is an interesting anomaly in the neo-noir and even film noir subgenres, serving as both the prototypical cynical drifter and the femme fatale. She utilizes her good-girl persona to woo her targets while also using the skills she developed during her imprisonment to get closer to her end goal. She's selfish in her desire for revenge against the men who wronged her, not caring what happens to others that help her along the way. This is a stark contrast to the other female characters throughout the Vengeance Trilogy, who typically serve as either companions or collateral to the male protagonists.

'Atonement. Do you know what that means?'

Lee Geum-ja is certainly a feminist character in the sense that she is fighting back against the violent misogyny she has experienced, but that is only one facet of her character. She is allowed the same moral ambiguity in her journey as both Dong-jin from "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and Dae-su from "Oldboy." However, what makes her unique is how she understands and recognizes her own antiheroism.

She recognizes that she is potentially becoming a villain in her own right, but she doesn't care. Geum-ja knows what she has to do and isn't clouded by the belief that she's left them no choice. Instead, she views the violence she inflicts as atonement — by making the men who framed her suffer, they are being forced into making reparations for the way they ruined her life. While this certainly is the case, it turns out that these slayings might not be as cathartic for Geum-ja as she's planned them to be. That is the ultimate tragedy of the film and one that is sadly resonant.

"Lady Vengeance" marked an important turning point in the career of Park Chan-wook. Not only did he find a true creative partner in Jeong Seo-kyeong, but it also allowed him to close one chapter of his career to begin a new one. It's hard to imagine if films like "The Handmaiden" or "Decision to Leave" would have been made, had this one not served as the ending of the Vengeance Trilogy.