Lady Vengeance Review

Mike Sutton takes a look at Tartan’s disappointing R0 release of Park Chan-wook’s scintillatingly cinematic “Lady Vengeance”.

My colleague Kevin Gilvear has already written a detailed review of Lady Vengeance for DVD Times and as I agree with most of his judgements, I offer the following link to his review of the R3 disc. I will add some comments of my own on the film following my appraisal of Tartan’s R2 release.

The Disc

Trying to keep track of what Tartan are doing with their releases is virtually impossible. Every time you think that they’re on an even keel with good releases such as A Bittersweet Life, they throw a curve ball by you and you have to revise your good opinion downwards. Such a ball is Lady Vengeance where the company have fallen back into the bad habits I hoped they might have abandoned for good.

First the good news. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. A non-anamorphic transfer would have been the final straw. It’s also crisp, full of fine detail and offers wonderfully rich colours. The downside is that the transfer is, wouldn’t you know it, an NTSC-PAL conversion. The first giveaway is the running time. The second is the rather horrible consequence of such a conversion, namely the constant ghosting and occasional double frames which afflict the image. Casual viewers might not be too concerned about this but anyone who cares about how the film looks will be dismayed and it’s enough to make the disc a non-starter as far as I’m concerned.

No reservations whatsoever about the sound though. The surround channels are given a thorough workout, the dialogue is crystal clear and every single piece of sound registers to exactly the right degree. The DTS track is the best of the lot for clarity but there is considerable merit in both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. All three soundtracks are in Korean and English subtitles are offered.

The only extras are four trailers – Lady Vengeance, Battle Royale II, A Bittersweet Life and Another Public Enemy – and a 42 minute video interview with Park Chan-wook. This latter feature is a UK exclusive and it’s pleasingly in-depth but is a little halting because the director speaks through a translator. I would have much preferred to have this interview properly edited together and then subtitled and I can’t quite imagine why Tartan haven’t done that. Chan-wook talks engagingly about the characters and themes and is especially interesting on the ways in which his revenge trilogy ties together. There’s lots of fascinating material here but I found it a bit frustrating to get through. Be prepared, incidentally, for a 2-disc special edition to emerge somewhere down the line with the extras that Tartan originally announced and then withdrew.

This disc is a disappointment however and clearly not the best that Tartan can do, despite the quality of the film. It’s an odd piece of cinema which hovers between the sardonic desperation of Sympathy of Mr Vengeance and the tragic momentum of Oldboy finding its own identity in a startling visual schema which uses colour to often devastating emotional effect. This is significant because the actual narrative is weirdly distanced, without the fierce sympathy elicited by the protagonists of Chan-wook’s previous two films. Lee Keum-ja is somehow remote from us and while it seems entirely appropriate that during the final revenge she is at one remove from the act, it’s also dramatically unsatisfying. But my reservations are minor since anyone with eyes to see has to admit that this is a stunningly controlled, beautifully assembled film by a master of his craft. As such, despite some flaws, it demands to be seen. Tartan’s release is not the best way to see it, however and the Korean 2-disc edition would seem to be a better choice.

Mike Sutton

Updated: May 26, 2006

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