Princess Aurora

Director: Bang Eun-jin
Year: 2005
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


Reviewed: 03/06

Previous films from the Director:

This was her debut film