"Saving the best for last?" one character asks another in Lady Vengeance, the final entry in Korean filmmaker Park Chanwook's revenge trilogy. She's not asking that to Park, and she's not referring to Lady Vengeance—though she might as well be, just as Park might as well be vigorously nodding.
Perhaps my favorite quote about film comes from Park: "I don't feel enjoyment watching films that evoke passivity," he said. "If you need that kind of comfort, I don't understand why you wouldn't go to a spa." Watching Park's films, it's easy to see the fruits of that mentality: Violent, dark, and funny, all three parts of his revenge trilogy are pointedly provoking—of thought, of emotion, and of gag reflexes. What's more, they've gotten progressively better: 2002's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was striking but uneven; 2003's Oldboy had some of the most phenomenal and disturbing moments I've ever seen on film, but had weak links in its plot; Lady Vengeance, those films' thematic successor, has an operatic, surreal storyline, paired perfectly with Park's meticulous visuals and captivating tone.
Yes, the film's about revenge—specifically, the sort that the beautiful Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) enacts on the cruel Mr. Baek (Oldboy's Choi Min-sik). But it goes deeper and darker than that. I'd offer a pat synopsis, but Park best tells this story, with heartbreaking performances and a gorgeous baroque soundtrack. Just know this: It's beautiful, and fucked up, and witty and sad and bloody and sweet.
I'm going to throw in another of my favorite quotations, this one from writer Sarah Vowell: "In movies, as in life, things are cool or things suck, and anything in between is barely worth noticing." That sentiment seems particularly relevant to Park: Reactions to his films tend to tread a bipolar line, with people either loving Park's work or finding it hardly worth mentioning. If you have yet to see Park's vengeance trilogy, this is the perfect spot to jump in; if you have, now's the time to decide which side of Park's audience you're on. Count me in the former—ecstatic that this trilogy is finished, and already anticipating what's next.