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Sympathy for “Lady Vengeance”‘s Park Chan-wook

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

Park Chanwook makes violent movies. His recent project was a revenge trilogy about wronged characters setting in motion intricate, gruesome retribution upon those deserving cads who have done them wrong. In “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002), an unemployed man wreaked vengeance on his former boss. In the Cannes Film Festival-winning “Oldboy” (2003), a businessman imprisoned for no apparent reason upon his release seeks justice from the man responsible. Park’s latest, “Lady Vengeance,” takes a feminine look at eye-for-an-eye themes.

Beautiful, frosty Lee Geum-ja takes the fall when Mr. Baek, a schoolteacher she used to pal around with as a pregnant teenager, kidnaps and kills a child. After 13 years as an exemplary prisoner who pretends to be reformed — God-fearing innocence incarnate — Geum-ja lays the groundwork for an elaborate revenge plot that enlists the help of many of her former fellow prisoners, one of whom has gone so far in her devotion to marry Baek (“Oldboy” star Choi Min-sik). Her scheme is not as simple as hunting the man down and putting a bullet through his head — Geum-ja’s painstaking and very painful punishment is so over-the-top, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or throw up.

While revenge has been Geum-ja’s all-consuming preoccupation for 13 years, complications arise when she is reunited with her daughter, Jenny, who was put up for adoption when she went to prison. This is where female vengeance differs from the male version — while the homicidal ice queen is obsessed with carrying out her bloody revenge on Baek, she also finds emotions bubbling up that she thought she had repressed, and, in spite of herself and her circumstances, wants to be a loving mother to Jenny. In working through these conflicting drives, Geum-ja becomes more than just the sum of her bloodlust. She becomes a fully-realized woman whose viciousness and vulnerability are justified and even compatible in a person battling to create a life after going through hell.

But first she wants to force the asshole responsible for her imprisonment to go to hell, too.

Park very consciously chose to make this hero in the third film in his revenge trilogy a woman, believing it would add a more emotionally dimensional, even hopeful, element to the films. “There’s a saying in Korea that once a woman has set her eyes on vengeance then snow will fall even in June,” the director said when he was in the States for the New York Film Festival. “People thought it would be more cruel, more violent. They were thinking she was going to transform and be the angel of vengeance, but I didn’t use a female lead because women are more vengeful — rather the opposite. I felt like only a woman would have certain virtues that this character needed.”

For audiences back in Korea, part of the film’s great success was due to casting. Park’s Lady Vengeance is played by Lee Young-ae, the country’s screen sweetheart. She has become famous playing the beloved palace chef on “The Jewel in the Palace,” one of the most popular TV shows in Korea. For “Lady Vengeance,” Lee both casts aside her angelic looks and reputation and uses them as a foil to the horrendous acts that her character commits.

“As a star she had really only been doing a certain kind of role,” Park said. “She herself wanted a change so she came to me, who’s known for making such violent films. She was ready to take this on so I didn’t have to do anything special to get a certain type of acting out of her. Rather, she would actually take it a step further sometimes, startling me, and I would find new chilling aspects to her that I wasn’t expecting. There is a scene where she is cutting off a man’s hair with a knife and the editor came to me and said, ‘Something was wrong with the film,’ because her movements were so fast. But that was in real time. She’s so crazed and moving so fast that the editor thought the speed of the film was different. Also Min-sik Choi, the actor whose hair was being cut off, said he had never felt more frightened in his acting career. He was convinced that this knife was going to go into his head.”

While Americans are accustomed to slasher fare and such directors as Quentin Tarantino have introduced us to a certain grotesque, at times cartoonish, violence that is largely inspired by Asian directors, we still squirm when it comes to watching these grueling, visceral acts. Even though we love it, as evidenced by the popularity of Japanese horror films and their American remakes, Americans still sometimes play the prude when faced with splattered blood, which makes Park a little defensive. “As I make more and more films and the more interviews I’ve given, I get asked a lot of stuff like ‘What kind of dreams do you dream?’ ‘How were you brought up?’ and ‘Is there something that happened in your life that makes you burn with such vengeance?'” he said, when asked if he’s in therapy. “Sometimes I feel like I’m being interrogated by an FBI serial-killer profiler, so I just want to say that nothing in my films is personal. I take nothing from my personal life.”

When it comes to creating films of great brutality, Park takes his role very seriously. “When I think of these scenes, they don’t make me happy or anything like that,” he said. “I don’t feel overly thrilled. But when it comes to portraying such cruel violence, I do feel a sense of responsibility. I ask myself if this violence is justified. If I feel satisfied that it is justified, it’s only then when I will put theses scenes in.”

“Lady Vengeance” opens in New York on April 28th, with more theaters to follow (official site).

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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