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NYFF: “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.”

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"He made a sinner out of me.""Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" has the most beautiful opening credits of any film in our recent memory. A stunning sequence of red and black on white that combines glimpses of the film’s motifs of baking, blood and symbolic, kabuki-esque make-up, it’s a striking contrast to the abrupt, in medias res kickoff of 2003’s "Oldboy," the second installation of the revenge trilogy "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" concludes. But then, unlike "Oldboy" and its antecedent, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," which featured men raging and plotting against and torturing other men, this film is centered on a woman.

"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is a better film than "Oldboy," which cemented director Park Chan-wook‘s reputation internationally — "Oldboy" was flawed, hugely enjoyable and often brilliant, but part of its success was based on its exploitation appeal (and it really cornered the market in on-screen consumption of live ocean life). There’s a disturbing bit of animal slayage in "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" too, and, while there’s less violence, there’s still plenty, but the operatic sense of grand guignol froth that "Oldboy" worked itself into is nearly gone — "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" reaches for something elusive, greater and unhappier.

Our heroine is Lee Geum-ja (an amazing Lee Yeong-ae), who, as a pretty, silly 19-year-old girl, was convinced to take part in the kidnapping of a young boy, ostensibly to collect a ransom from his wealthy parents. Her partner Baek, the man she lived with ("Oldboy"’s Choi Min-sik), kills the boy, and she’s forced to take the fall for it. While serving her 13-year sentence, she develops a reputation as a devoutly religious, angelic helper of her fellow inmates. As soon as she gets out, she begins calling in favors from those she helped while in prison, and embarks on the plan for revenge she’s been dwelling on for over a decade.

When Park plays virtuoso, he can bring a tear to our eye. For the introductory half-hour or so, as in "Oldboy" (Are you getting the sense that we haven’t gotten around to seeing "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" yet?), he out-Tarantinos Tarantino and out-Finchers Fincher with dazzlingly quick, clever sequence on top of sequence. It’s astonishingly vivid, funny and vital, and while there’s no way to he can maintain it, the film always drags a bit when he settles into the meat of the story.

Geum-ja is one hell of a post-feminist icon, if you’d want to see her that way. Uma never had it so good — Geum-ja makes herself into a paragon of Korean womanhood, demure, beautiful, impossibly sweet, with a serenely symmetrical oval face that, as Park well knows, resembles that of a complacent madonna. She’s also capable of terrible acts, like gradually feeding a bullying fellow inmate bleach for years, even coming in to spoon feed her poisoned meals on her sickbed, smiling all the while. For Geum-ja, her great act of revenge is less an act of fury (though that’s certainly there) than an act of atonement — she must make amends for the horrendous thing she took part in, and the only way she sees to do this is to find Baek and kill him. The film is refreshingly free of sisterhood — despite the constant undertone of rage in Geum-ja’s backstory and the flashbacks of the lives of the women she shares a cell with, this isn’t a tale of downtrodden females uniting to take down an oppressive male force — the women are shown being anywhere from completely cruel to merely uncaring to each other, and Geum-ja just as clearly sets out to use them.

The Korean title to the film, "Chinjeolhan geumjassi," translates to something like "The Kindhearted Miss Geum-ja," but there’s something appropriate about the English choice of "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" — Park, for all his bleak assessment of human nature, has a seemingly infinite capacity for compassion for his characters nevertheless. They destroy others; they destroy themselves; they commit terrible acts of violence and malice; and yet he refrains from judging their actions. We don’t think we’re spoiling anything by saying that the last we see of Geum-ja, her face is immersed in a cake. Considering all that it means in context, it’s a desperate, strange and moving image. And a weary and gentle voiceover tells us, as the camera pulls back, that, despite all she’s done, some unidentifiable "I" likes her anyway…as, invariably, do we.

"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" will be released in early 2006 by Tartan Films.

Click here for all the NY Film Festival reviews thus far.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.