Park Chan-wook & Vengeance Trilogy

The classroom trial in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance → the way it problematizes democracy reminds us of High Noon, where, confronted with an imminent threat of a villain on his way back to society for retaliation, democratic order undergoes a crisis.

From Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation (New York: Atheneum, 1992)

The return of villains and townspeople’s unwillingness to fight → a parody of democracy: “At first, the townspeople are all for helping Kane; then ‘cooler heads’ prevail, particularly the mayor…The defeat of Miller…meant progress for the town…But if a gunfight takes place in the streets, [the town] will seem like ‘just another wide open town.’ Thus the traditional sanctions of ‘progress’ become motives for cowardice rather than incitements to heroism. The community, in a virtual town meeting, declares that it does not want Will Kane to fight its battles a second time…At this moment, [Kane becomes] deprived of the classic sanctions that authorized the town-tamer’s use of violence [in the past]. He has no official entitlement to the badge he has re-assumed after retiring that morning; the Mayor had defined his action as anti-progressive; and the town meeting has made it clear that it no longer wants him to act as its agent. He is, in effect, a vigilante: a private man assuming the power of the law without submitting himself to the democratic process…The principle on which he acts [like other vigilantes] is…that the defense of ‘civilization’ is more important than the procedures of ‘democracy'” (392-93).

A more fundamental dimension of High Noon than both the left and the right perspective: From a leftist perspective, the film is usually interpreted, as its screenwriter Foreman intended, as an allegory of Hollywood’s surrender to McCarthyism…the same people who in an earlier and less prosperous time had risen up to defeat the enemy have not grown too comfortable or complacent to risk their lives and fortunes for the public good. [Whereas a rightist reading can detect in the return of Miller a symbolization of that of Fascism in the guise of Communism…Beneath the ‘left’ perspective of the gunfighter film and the ‘right’ perspective of the cavalry film is a common ideological structure that devalues ‘democracy’ as an instrument of progress and declares that the only effective instrument for constructive historical action is a gun in the hands of the right man” (395-96).

The alternation of naturalistic and surrealistic elements at the end of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance → invokes a similar sense to a highly stylized figuration of Western heroes such as Shane

The historical and naturalistic references are offset by a perspective (identified with Joey’s point of view) that insists on abstracting and stylizing every person and action and looking through history to find a mythic archetype, which is given force by Steven’s alternation of naturalistic and folkloric elements in scenes where elements are exaggerated and distorted to achieve an ‘epic’ effect (e.g., an heroic action coupled with responsive Nature as in the Homeric world–a tragic event with lightning) (397).

“Shane arrives from outside, and his past is concealed…But because Shane’s motives for helping the farmers are unique and arise from no visible history or social background, they appear to be expressions of his nature, signs of a nobility which is independent of history, like the attributes of a ‘higher race,’ Shane is never part of the community, and his superior values are not seen as belonging to the community. He is an aristocrat of violence, an alien from a more glamorous world, who is better than those he helps and is finally not accountable to those for whom he sacrifices himself” (400).

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