Revenge. Vengeance. Retribution. No matter what you call it they all entail the notion of justice being served against someone who wronged another. However, more often than not the story usually goes that someone has been wronged and justice was not served and the victim then takes justice into their own hands.
This is one of the most exciting and popular themes, not only in film, but also in literature and on stage. The emotions and connotations involved when someone does you a personal injustice are endless and filmmakers and writers seize on the myriad of excellent opportunities to create a variety of revenge stories – whether dark (such as Hamlet) or amusing (such as John Tucker Must Die). This issue’s reviews, however, focus on revenge movies with a darker and more violent note.
More revenge movies:
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
V for Vendetta (2005)
John Tucker Must Die (2006)
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman
Combining the spectacular genres of horror and the musical comes the masterpiece that is Sweeney Todd, based on Stephen Sondheim’s musical. This is a dark and tragic tale of love and revenge, while also delivering biting commentary on the condition of man and society. Mrs. Lovett’s (Bonham Carter) meat pies are an integral part of the story and also provide much of the unexpected humour in a gloomy and destitute London. The “great black pit”, as Todd (Depp) calls it, that is London is depicted through bleak and sombre settings and costumes. One of the film’s greatest achievements is that Burton chose actors to portray his characters and not singers and the results are astonishing. The true strength of their performances (particularly Depp’s) lie in the fact that not only do they remain in character while singing, but they sing with such emotion that it reveals the tortured and corrupted souls of their characters. However, having said that, the main cast (who have no musical training) surprise and delight with their incredible singing abilities. This is a truly remarkable and unforgettable film that should not be missed.
KILL BILL: VOLUMES 1 & 2 (2003; 2004)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, and David Carradine
Kill Bill consists of two volumes and each volume was released individually, but the two volumes essentially comprise one film. Uma Thurman dazzles in this revenge story of “the bride” who is robbed of her new life by her former boss and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which she was formerly a part. Tarantino delivers style and action as only he can. He begs, borrows and steals as usual; from an entire scene done in anime to his Brian dePalma split screen, he serves up a plethora of genres and styles. His soundtrack is as special and brilliant as ever, incorporating artists such as the Japanese band The 5, 6, 7, 8s who also appear in the film. As usual the films are littered with pop culture references and he provides us with a range of brilliant cameos from Sonny Chiba to Samuel L. Jackson. The action sequences are so superbly choreographed and shot that they can compete with the best martial arts’ films out there. Tarantino delivers yet again by never deviating from his signature style, but still offering us something new created from the tried and tested.
MAD MAX (1979)
Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel and Hugh Keays-Byrne
Ushering in the 80s is a super-cool and very pissed off young Mel Gibson in tight leather and over-sized shades. After losing his wife and child to a gang of violent rebel bikers, Max (Gibson) sets out on a relentless path of vengeance. Despite the madness of Max alluded to in the title, the story takes its time to get to this point. The bikers’ pointless violent rampages and Max’s close connection to his wife and child are set up again and again. Having said that this does emphasise the bikers’ menace and asserts Max’s thirst for revenge. The film is also constantly filled with great action, consisting mostly of some great road chases. Nevertheless, Max’s search for vengeance only takes up the very last part of the film. However, a great character is established at the end in Max and consequently led to two sequels.
SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (2005)
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Lee Young Ae, Choi Min Sik, Kim Si Hu and Kwon Yea Young
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance forms the last part of South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s revenge trilogy, the preceding two films being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Old Boy (2003). The three films are linked only through the common theme of revenge. Lady Vengeance, unlike the other two films, has a female protagonist: Lee Geum-Ja. She is thrown into jail for kidnapping and killing a young boy when she is twenty years old. She is, however, innocent and when she is released thirteen years later she sets out to wreak vengeance on the man who made her take the blame for the murder. It is an intriguing story, but the most fascinating aspect is the manner in which Lee Geum-Ja decides to enact revenge. This fascinating story is heightened by the stylish and almost surreal manner in which Park directs. Every element of the film is carefully and meticulously thought out and presented – from the superb acting to the captivating music. It is an unswerving and powerful tale of revenge that perfectly compliments and completes Park’s trilogy.
Photo credit: Reelz
Originally published in A Look Away.