“Come to sunny Trinidad! Enjoy the beaches! And kill people!”

I think it may be more infuriating to see a film that could be great, but blows its chance, than one which falls short in every aspect. Such is Backlash, a film with enough potential to flirt with greatness, before settling for mediocrity. Let’s start with the good stuff. Danielle Burgio is a stuntwoman, who doubled for Carrie-Anne Moss in the Matrix sequels, and it’s a striking resemblance – especially when the producers here pull Burgio’s hair back, and deck her out in a black tank-top (below, left). She has presence, agile grace and undeniably looks like she can kick butt. I was also amused by the two assassins on her tail: one (Levrone) is tall and taciturn, the other (Kim) short and feisty, and they’re a fun combination to watch.

In the middle lies the action. While some fights work nicely, too often (particularly between Burgio and Kim) they are an obvious sequence of blocks, with blows having no impact – some parts of the car chases are clearly shot at an extremely sedate pace. The script is nothing special either; I hoped a woman, writer Caitlin McKenna, could bring fresh aspects, yet the story here is tired and old. CIA agent Skye Gold (Burgio) is compromised, targeted for death and forced on the run, leading to the usual “Who can she trust?” issues we’ve seen a million times before. There’s little new here of note; the film, indeed, largely abandons Gold for a lengthy chunk in the middle, deciding to focus on the assassins’ approach to the base where she’s hiding out.

It is, however, the lumpy, leaden direction that kills this, the sense of pacing wrecked by frequent cuts to what feels painfully like stock footage from the Trinidad & Tobago Tourist Board. The use of badly-fitting music jars too, and works against the film, distracting rather than enhancing atmosphere. It seems the aim is something Andy Sidaris-esque, putting an action heroine in an exotic location to get chased by bad guys, but the results here seem much more forced and artificial (and if anything, increases my respect for Sidaris – whatever his flaws, the style is very easy to watch). I’ll happily keep an eye on Burgio whose career, with the right project, could explode; this, however, is definitely not it.

The DVD is available from MTI Home Video on November 21st; it’s in widescreen and includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and a music video.
Dir: David Chameides
Stars: Danielle Burgio, Robert Merrill, Kevin Levrone, Lauren Kim

Lady Vengeance


“Revenge is a bitch…”

This film may need two viewings. First time up, I was irritated by an apparent lack of coherence – which was particularly annoying, since the non-linear storyline seemed almost completely superfluous. Second time round, it bothered me less though remained, perhaps deliberately, disorienting, and I still doubt the need for it. But the re-view left me better able to appreciate the great central idea, a chilling meditation on justice, revenge, the thin line between the two, and the effects on those who become involved. The final part of Park’s loose trilogy (after Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy) is the story of “kind-hearted Geum-ja” (Lee), who spends 13 years in prison, for the heinous murder of a young child. Except, she isn’t guilty, and spends the time forging alliances which will help with her new goal: revenge on the real perpetrator (Choi).

The pace is stately, rather than adrenalin-driven, yet there’s no denying its place here. Much credit to Lee for a great performance in a complex character, capable of huge sacrifice in her quest for redemption: she cuts off a finger in front of the victim’s parents, and has to be physically restrained from removing more. Yet it seems that her charity and good deeds, such as donating a kidney to a fellow prisoner, may be part of her vengeance. And then, when her goal is within grasp…she steps back to allow others, perhaps better-motivated, to take her place. Or is the opportunity that she offers a poisoned chalice? The questions asked have no easy answers; neither proponents of capital punishment, nor those opposed to it, will find it comfortable viewing. By the end, there are no victims left; everyone is guilty – to use the old Sex Pistols line, no-one is innocent.

he DVD was released by Tartan Video USA on September 26th, and includes an interview with Park, a ‘making of’ documentary, and no less than three commentaries. Nice job! For more information, visit the Tartan Video USA site.
a.k.a. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Dir: Park Chan-Wook
Stars: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Si-Hu, Nam Il-Woo