Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold
Revenge is a dish best served cold, according to the Klingon proverb. Unfortunately it doesn't often work out that way in real life.
Just last week there was the case of a motorist who chucked a burger out of his window - only for a cyclist to pick it up and throw it back in. The motorist then throws his coffee on the cyclist, who scratches his car with her keys. At which point the motorist jumps out and assaults both the cyclist and her bike...
It's not exactly an edifying story, but judging from the comments I've heard it's one we can all relate to on some level (the split between vigilante eco-warriors and road raging litter bugs would seem about even). In the heat of the moment, most of us are capable of doing something stupid.
For some reason pre-meditated revenge gets more of a look-in at the movies - maybe because a few seconds of anger aren't going to flesh out an hour and a half. Now when the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) swears to avenge herself on the entire male sex in Dangerous Liaisons, that's a movie.
The brilliant South Korean director Park Chan-Wook calls vengeance 'a useless emotion', noting it is unique to man in the animal kingdom. That hasn't stopped him devoting an entire trilogy to the theme. (It also motivates his episode in the portmanteau film Three Extreme, a macabre vignette about a film director terrorized by an angry extra.) The third installment, Lady Vengeance, opens in selected cinemas this Friday. In the first, the brutal Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, a deaf mute and his leftwing girlfriend kidnap the son of the wealthy industrialist who made him redundant, a plot that blows up in their faces.
In the Cannes prize-winning Oldboy a man is snatched from the street and deprived of human contact for 15 years - then released with the implicit challenge to figure out who has been tormenting him and why.
And now in Lady Vengeance, Geum-Ja (Lee Yeong-ae) is released from prison after serving 13 years for the murder of a young boy. Rejecting the Catholic priest who petitioned for her release she puts into motion an elaborate plan to exact justice on the man she holds responsible for her plight.
To give away much more might spoil the impact of this meticulously fiendish thriller, which drip-feeds information with some finesse. Suffice it to say our opinion of Geum-Ja shifts considerably over the course of the film. Sometimes she appears angelic, and at other times she's almost a witch - but perhaps there is not a contradiction there. Love has been twisted into hate. (Incidentally, the original Korean title translates as 'The Kindly Miss Geum-Ja').
We may be fortunate enough not experience such extremes in our own life (hopefully not often anyway) but that doesn't mean we don't relate. After all, Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter (and many other roles: Dirty Harry, Pale Rider, Unforgiven), even Nicole Kidman in Dogville... they oscillate in our imaginations between heroes and villains, saintly and satanic.
It's easy to dismiss ostentatious, baroque filmmakers like Brian de Palma and Park Chan-Wook as all style and no substance, but what's at stake in Lady Vengeance is every bit as morally complex as the cycle of violence Steven Spielberg addresses so doggedly in the Oscar-nominated Munich.
When we look at Sissy Spacek dripping in pig's blood, wreaking havoc on the heads of her tormentors in Carrie, we're simultaneously moved and repelled - a reaction not so far removed from the awe we experience at classical tragic heroes like Hamlet and Macbeth. But then what is Hamlet, if not a revenge story?
Check out 'THE REVENGE COLLECTION' on DVD
THIS WEEK'S NEWSLETTER FEATURES: