Film Forum

On Revenge Movies: A Dish Best Served Cold

 

Tales of revenge get more cartoonishly spectacular in the Oscar-nominated Argentine drama "Wild Tales." Via Sony Classics.

Tales of revenge get more cartoonishly spectacular in the Oscar-nominated Argentine drama “Wild Tales.” Via Sony Classics.

The French have it right when they say that “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Ahead of the June 12 Filmworks screening of the revenge drama “Wild Tales,” let’s take a look at some revenge movies and compare them to our Argentine Oscar nominee—a compendium of six stories of vengeance, of numerous turbulent lives coming together and breaking apart, driven to madness as they are lured by the undeniable pleasure of losing control.

Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair

Separated into two volumes, director Quentin Tarantino’s powerhouse of a revenge film clocks in with an original screen time of more than four hours. No two-hour movie could tell the full story or describe the journey back to redemption that Uma Thurman painfully enacts as The Bride. 

After four years, The Bride wakes from a coma to find her unborn child gone, taken from her on the eve of her wedding day four years prior as she was betrayed and left for dead. Now, she must enact vengeance on a team of assassins, those she once trusted most. As she completes her hit list, battle after bloody battle, she is finally left with only one more obstacle: Bill, her ex-lover, the man who betrayed her, the one who cost her everything. In Tarantino fashion, ’tis a sweet, sweet bloody journey.

Old Boy

Often, the best revenge films come out of horrific beginnings—the worse the better. Unfortunately for Dae-Su, the main character in the 2003 drama “Old Boy,” this is the case. Fresh out of jail for drunken misconduct, Dae-Su is kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years in a solitary cell, with no light and no hope of escape, until one day he is released by his captor, who starts a twisted mind game 15 years in the making. Dae-Su discovers his captor and must hunt him down, but in order to kill him, he must first play one more game, which leads to treacherous consequences for everyone in Dae-Su’s life, both present and past. 

Spike Lee’s American remake was released in 2013, but the original South Korean mystery thriller remains as one of the best contemporary Asian films ever made, according to a list made by CNN. For “Old Boy,” one part in the three-part “Vengeance Trilogy,” the plot is one of the most horrifying, yet mesmerizing storylines portrayed. To give away the ending would be a crime to Dae-Su himself.

Léon: The Professional 

One of my personal favorites, “The Professional” may seem a little less graphic compared to the gore and horror of the previous two films, but instead is a more subtle character study into the depths of those who kill. 

Twelve-year-old Natalie Portman plays a little girl who has watched her family murdered right in front of her eyes by a corrupt DEA agent played by Gary Oldman. Her decision: without a home, without a family, Portman must team up with her shy neighbor, Léon—who happens to be a professional mobster assassin—to learn the tricks of the trade and avenge her 2-year-old baby brother, along with the rest of her family.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 

I include only the American version of the series, based on the acclaimed Millennium Trilogy books by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, in honor of Daniel Craig’s up-and-coming release later this year of Spectre. There’s also Rooney Mara’s stunning performance as Lisbeth Salander (although Noomi Rapace’s 2009 version was also a performance that should not be missed.)

The entire series is a twisted familial murder mystery, descending into the madness of one isolated wealthy family 40 years ago and into today, still enacting secrets and treachery—a family affair, centuries in the making. While the main storyline focuses on the insidious family history, one of the most powerful scenes in the film takes place as Lisbeth enacts her own revenge on her state legal guardian, Nils Bjurman, who uses his authority over Lisbeth to exact sexual favors, leading eventually to rape. But Lisbeth gets even with Bjurman, and she continues to discover the family’s family secrets.

Megan Ginise studies journalism and public relations at Fresno State. She currently serves as the Filmworks marketing intern.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.