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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).



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.