Following the Path of Revenge By Rui Pedro Tendinha
by Rui Tendinha
In the right hands, revenge is a good source of material for the cinema. At the Toronto International Film Festival we saw two such examples. These are filmmakers who try to capture the primal instinct of violent vengeance. Filmmakers who try to push the envelope formally, in depicting explicit violence and internal disorder. How far can human nature go in the pursuit of personal justice? How does society cope with these notions? These are issues that Eli Roth and Park Chan-wook handle in their new movies, Hostel and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, respectively, two different takes on a very uncomfortable subject.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
After Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook chooses for the final chapter of his revenge trilogy a story with a feminine element. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance closes the chapter with a golden key, providing the audience another take on his own personal quest for establishing what we can call the new extreme cinema. Certainly we can expect a great deal of violence, and even more certainly, we can be confident that it exhibits a riveting cinematic punch. The film is an elegant cross between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy. The story follows a woman, played by the cold Lee Yeong-ae, who, after 13 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, sets out to balance the scales in a most imaginative way. Park always tries to develop a wicked sense of humor without losing any shocking dramatic impulses. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance also contains hypercontrived subplots that force us to care about some of the minor characters. The edge-of-your-seat pathos deals wonderfully with an examination of our animal instincts, and the instincts here are obviously connected with the gratification of torture and punishment. Now, what is brave is the capacity of turning this dark trip into something operatic. There is something lyrical about this heroine of revenge. Her tragic poses resemble those of an opera diva. That’s why this film is so unsettling and so haunted by a cruel beauty.
Rock’n roll cinema. Three horny guys seek easy sex in a hostel in Slovakia. What they can’t imagine is that the hostel is bait for a nightmare of pain and death. In the tradition of the great midnight horror movies comes Hostel, a genuine study of the evil inside us. It is also an explicit homage to recent violent and extreme films from Asia. Director Eli Roth deliberately makes an American Takashi Miike film (Takashi himself has a cameo). In doing so he also makes a statement about the value of the horror gore movie as a genre. Quentin Tarantino, who is the producer, apparently pitched the idea to the director, who, after the controversial Cabin Fever wanted to amplify the degree of provocation. He presents these dark places with a sense of style, including a brave venture into the unknown pleasures of exploitation -especially when the main characters start loosing their body members. Surely Roth’s film contains the best humor variations on the B-movies. We just have to forgive the first 15 or 20 minutes, which resemble those cheesy, raunchy teen sex comedies. Nevertheless, the film is pure great fun. Believe me, the way in which Roth captures the grotesque urge for revenge is a huge achievement.