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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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