We all know about the motivation for John Wick's initial retaliatory vengeance. Ditto for Paul Kersey and Bryan Mills, of course. But there is a wide variety of less-heralded revenge pictures, both contemporary and classic, worthy of some time and attention. The films listed below detail one heroic character's trajectory from grappling with tragedy to enacting bloody retributive vengeance.
Be warned: A lot of the tragedies being avenged are fairly disturbing. Cumulative body counts (accounting for all deaths, not just those racked up by our avenging hero), when available (as sourced online, because memories occasionally fail), have been included.
- Photo: CJ Entertainment
The Vengeful Hero: Former South Korean Army Intelligence spy-turned-mysterious pawnshop owner Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin), whose only living friend is his child neighbor So-mi (Kim Sae-ron).
The Tragedy: So-mi's mother Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo), a smack-addicted go-go dancer, steals a heroin bag from crime boss Oh Myung-gyu (Song Young-chang) and pawns it off in a camera bag to Tae-sik. Hyo-jeong is subsequently tortured and murdered in front of her daughter. Myung-gyu then kidnaps So-mi to gain power over Tae-sik.
The Body Count: 18
The Final Hits: Tae-sik takes down a dozen gang members plus bosses Lum Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakunl) and Man-seok (Kim Hee-won). Ultimately, he discovers that So-mi, who he was told had been slain, was spared by Ramrowan. Tae-sik is imprisoned for the various laws he had to break while trying to disrupt Myung-gyu's operation, but is able to set up So-mi with some school supplies and a general survivalist instinct before having to depart.Beautiful vengeance?
- Photo: CBS Films
The Vengeful Hero: Jimmy "Driver" Cullen (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a former getaway driver just released from prison who is capable of surviving point-blank shots to the head and neck.
The Tragedy: As our tale begins, we discover Driver on a quest for vengeance immediately following his release from prison. Along the way, we discover just what Driver is avenging. He and his older half-brother Gary (Matt Gerald) were double-crossed following a bank robbery and left for dead by their co-conspirators. Driver survived (but just barely, and a metal plate had to be installed in his skull); Gary did not. One by one, Driver has made it his mission to pick off his former colleagues, all of whom have cool aliases (The Killer, Cop, Old Guy, Baphomet, Evangelist).
The Body Count: 4
The Final Hit: During a church showdown (a recurring locale on this list) against the Killer, Cop shoots Driver in the head, leaving him for dead once again (we have discovered by now that Cop, unwisely, has done this once before). Inevitably, Driver returns and takes Cop down for good.Beautiful vengeance?
7. RevengePhoto: Neon
The Vengeful Hero: Jen (Matilda Lutz), a party girl who has been having an affair with her married neighbor Richard (Kevin Janssens).
The Tragedy: On a peyote-spiked desert hunting trip with Richard and his friends, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède), Jen is assaulted by Stan while Richard is away. When he returns and discovers what has transpired in his absence, Richard tries to bribe Jen in exchange for her silence. She refuses, and Richard pushes her off a cliff. Jen is impaled on a tree and left for dead by the three men, who continue their hunting trip. But she is not quite done for...
The Body Count: 3
The Final Hit: After taking care of Richard's friends in the desert, Jen follows him to his house, where they enact an elaborate and deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Jen shoots him in the stomach, but the kill shot is a blow to the chest. She emerges from her experiences transformed and at peace.Beautiful vengeance?
- Photo: Toho
The Vengeful Hero: Yuki/Shurayuki-hime (Meiko Kaji), daughter of Sayo Kashima (Miyoko Akaza), who passed shortly after her birth in a women's prison. Yuki has been training since childhood to become an assassin to avenge her family.
The Tragedy: Sayo's husband and son were murdered by four crooks, and Sayo was assaulted by three of them. She was able to kill one of her tormenters, but this somehow landed her with life imprisonment. Sayo slept with several prison guards ahead of her pregnancy, so the identity of Yuki's biological father is a mystery.
The Body Count: 29
The Final Hit: Yuki tracks down and stabs the final remaining tormenter of her mother, Tsukamoto Gishirō (Eiji Okada), in the chest and throat at a masquerade ball. He shoots her and she wanders out of the club - where she, too, is stabbed by Kobue Takemura (Yoshiko Nakada), another young woman seeking her own vengeance against Yuki for an earlier kill. Yuki eventually (appropriately enough) collapses, bleeding out in the snow. Of course, she isn't quite dead. So the actual final kill was Gishirō, concluding Yuki's extended wrath.Beautiful vengeance?