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Movie Marathons: Korean Revenge Trilogy

South Korean director (and writer – he’s credited as a screenwriter on all three of these films) Chan-wook Park’s trilogy of revenge movies packs a punch, especially if you watch them all in a row. Things get intense when you mainline these in one sitting, so consider spreading them out over three evenings. Or three weeks.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) – In a way, this one hit me the hardest. It’s the least stylized, and its greater degree of realism makes the gut punch of the story even more effective because you can follow everyone’s intentions into the abyss. Events unfold in unrelenting order, step by terrible step, inevitable and unstoppable, like sand in an hour glass. You understand why each of the two main protagonists is doing what they do, and you sympathize and recoil at the same time. Psychologically, you’re twisting in the wind here. Plus, some pretty horrendous deaths are served up, in a terrible, low-key manner. Of the three, this one is the bleakest one, without any nod at redemption.

Oldboy (2003) – Probably the best known of the three outside of Korea, and with reason (that hammer, for one). Sadly, I had to see this dubbed, and the English voices distracted me since they didn’t seem to fit with the actors. On the other hand, maybe this gave me some needed distance to what was happening. The mystery of the imprisonment keeps you interested, and the horror is slow in mounting, so that you’re only realizing your throat is tight when things really escalate to that final leap into pure psychological horror. This one has some real over-the-top gory scenes, of which the one at the sushi place with the live octopus is only the beginning. This one is a real mindf–k.

Lady Vengeance (2005) –  The final installment is the most stylish, starting with the beautiful credit sequence. And also back to subtitles, to my relief, even if it made things a bit confusing at times. It also seems slower to build, and less hardcore – if you don’t think about it – until a fantastical sequence towards the end, where suddenly the absurd and the horror hit you smack in the face thanks to the cinematography and the loving attention to detail. Clear plastic raincoats, oh my. Very beautiful shots, masterfully composed. And a story that’s just as twisted as the other two. Also, a stunning Yeong-ae Lee (both in her appearance and performance) as the lady bent on revenge.

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Pairings

It’s not just wine you can pair with your dinner. In seat-of-the-pants cooking, we award bonus points for incorporating into one meal the entirety of an ingredient that would otherwise be left partially unused. And cocktails count, as long as they are served with the dish. This cocktail and pasta pairing is bound together by the lemon that was overstaying its visit to my kitchen.

Lemony Spaghetti and the Applecar

Note: The ingredients here are based on a dinner for one, and a very spur of the moment style of cooking. Measurements vary and should be adjusted to your taste.

While your spaghetti (wondering how best to measure your portion of dry spaghetti? Try this method.) is cooking to al dente consistency, crack one egg into a small bowl. Add a pinch of dried Herb de Provence (or other herbs you might like), some salt and pepper, and the zest of one small lemon. Whisk for a minute or so to mix it all together and get the egg frothy. Keep the lemon around for the cocktail. Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain, and dump back in the pot. It’s ok if some of the pasta water from the sieve sticks around. You can also reserve a small amount before draining the pasta, and add it back to the pot with the noodles. Add a healthy pat of butter, and the egg. Turn off the heat, or, at least leave it at the lowest setting – you do not want the egg to turn solid. The residual heat from the stove and the pot, as well as the spaghetti, should be enough to cook the egg. Keep tossing everything around in the pot for a few minutes, to make sure all the spaghetti strands are coated with the egg sauce. Add in some capers for a salty snap – as few or many as you like. A silky, creamy sauce should have formed, but if you’re worried about the egg, you can turn the heat back on for a little bit. You don’t need it though. Serve with the Apple Car, and let the lemon make a bridge between the food and the cocktail.

For the Applecar cocktail, take equal parts fresh lemon juice, Triple Sec (I used Cointreau), and Applejack, shake with ice, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Simple, fast, delicious. And in this specific instance, the drink’s slight lemon tartness nicely reflects the lemon zest in the pasta dish, making for a great and bright pairing.