Director: Bang Eun-jin
Production Company: East Film
Running Time: 106 minutes
In 2005 Korea had two films in which a woman
took the law into her own hands to deal out justice as she saw fit. In
both cases it had to do with a woman revenging the death of a child – for
what has more fury than that maternal near mythical instinct – a force
of nature that can’t be stopped. “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” received
all the publicity and hype and its stunning bravura style made that deserving,
but for me it lacked a visceral sense of emotional catharsis – due partly
to its complicated narrative structure and partly because the dead child
was not her own. “Princess Aurora” goes directly for the emotional gut
– there is nothing complex here once the motive is revealed – her six year
old girl was raped and murdered and anyone who in any way caused that to
happen has to die – it’s as simple as that.
Though on the surface this may have the appearance
of a serial killer narrative, it has an odd structure that takes away much
of the suspense of the film. Instead it becomes a journey of a woman’s
unending pain and her need for vengeance and release. By the end it is
in fact quite sad and yet emotionally satisfying – the final slice is pure
justice. Though most of her victims had what the law would judge only a
tenuous connection with the death of the girl, somehow they seem to get
what they deserve – but perhaps too easily so as their depiction is so
negative that you root for their punishment – a more positive characterization
would have perhaps given the film a needed moral gray area.
The identity of the killer is known to the viewer
immediately when she takes a utensil at a shopping mall and goes into a
bathroom stall and slashes a woman to her death. Her ex-husband (Sung-keun
Moon) is a cop and put on the case and soon has a feeling that his ex-wife
is behind it but keeps this to himself until he knows for sure. He is also
burdened by the guilt that he did nothing to protect his daughter in her
time of need and is now studying to become a priest as a form of redemption.
But he also can’t connect the victims to his daughter’s death. Other imaginative
deaths continue – poison, asphyxiation, suffocation with the use of face
cream – and one begins to wonder where this film can go from there. Since
the police know halfway through who the killer is – she makes no real effort
to hide her bloody tracks - there is very little tension being generated,
but the film is not really going for a typical serial killer gnashing of
teeth scenario. Instead it is going for anguish. Near the end there is
a solemn wail of pathos as the mother imagines the final day of her daughter’s
life, the little accumulated incidents of uncaring, the image of her small
figure desperately trying to walk home and the final invitation of a predator
to give her a ride – it is torturous and hard to watch.
I think that the tepid reception that the film
received upon its release was partly due to misconceptions and expectations
– the audience felt let down by the lack of excitement and the sense of
a chase that these types of films generally have – but in the end this
is really a family tragedy not a serial killer film. Jeong-hwa Eom ("Mr.
Handy", "Singles", "Crazy Marriage") as the mother intent on vengeance
and holding off her collapse until she achieves it is simply terrific and
deeply heartfelt and a major change from her usual romantic comedy roles.
This is a really solid debut from this director (who as an actress appeared
in "301/302" and "Address Unknown") and clearly her gender played a part
in her seeing this through the prism of a mother and allowed her to sidestep
many of the cliches inherent in this sort of film.
My rating for this film: 7.5
Previous films from the Director:
This was her debut film