Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Original title: Chinjeolhan geumjassi
Directed by; Chan-wook Park, South Korea, 2005

Asian / Drama, 112 min

Distributed by: Panorama Distributions

Story: Thirteen years after being sentenced for the abduction and death of a child she didn't kill, Lee Geum-Ja [Yeong-ae Lee] is released from jail. Her mind is set on one thing only... to claim vengeance upon the real culprit, Mr. Baek [Min-sik Choi]. All her friends from jail are called upon as she goes after Mr. Baek to take her revenge.

Oh boy, does this movie pack a punch. I've had it on the DVD shelf since just after New Year, but I haven't really dared to watch it. Mostly due to the fact that I didn't want to be disappointed, I've read some pretty bad reviews of this movie. It's no surprise to anyone that find Park to be one of the most interesting directors to come out of Asia these last few years. So I was sort of worried as I stared to watch this movie, but my fears where unnecessary. This movie is awesome. It shifts between genres, very smoothly, blending drama with dark comedy. The tale of Gaum-Ja's tale of vengeance is told by an third party voice over, which I'm uncertain whom it belongs to, probably Geum-Ja's daughter. The story is a basic revenge tale, Geum-Ja who helped Mr Beak kidnap a child, had her own daughter kidnapped by him to force her to take the blame for the kidnapped child's death. So it's no wonder she wants revenge. Geum-Ja is brilliantly played by Yeong-ae Lee who also had the lead in Park's J.S.A. She's absolutely beautiful as the tormented Mrs. Vengeance. Park chooses a very intelligent way to tell us about Geum-Ja's time in jail, through flashbacks portraying her closest friends' time as incarcerated women. Geum-Ja is their smiling angel who helps them through the roughest of times, and foes. But now on the outside they all see how she has changed, she's now a woman with a vile plan for revenge. Mr Baek, portrayed by Min-sik Choi from the magnificent Old Boy, is totally different from his rather likeable Old Boy character. He's put on weight, show's no signs of compassion to anyone, be it his girlfriend, or the pre-school children the he teaches at work. And this is where the movie gets very dark. The road up to where Geum-Ja finds Baek, is rather fun and full of humorous twists. She find's her daughter, who has been adopted by an Australian couple, and takes her back to Korea, but not until they have had a booze up together. Secondary characters and Gaeum-Ja's time in prison is all told with a twinkle in the eye, but then she finds Baek. Upon finding him she starts to take her revenge, but when she realises that he's responsible for killing more than the child she was sentenced for her vengeance takes a drastic turn for the worse. Through a fiendish plan to let all the parents of the murdered children do as they please with Baek. To motivate them she shows them the video's Baek shot of their children before he murdered them, and this came as a complete shock. I was not prepared for this and it took me quite a while to get over the grainy, rough footage of the children. There's no onscreen violence, and the children are obviously actors, but it was quite rough to watch. Especially as I have a child of my own not far from the age of the children in the videos. Heavy stuff! So when the parents claim their vengeance it's almost as if I too wanted to take a swing at Baek. But I presume that Park had to make some drastic move to get the viewer past the sympathetic feelings that Min-sik evoked in Old Boy, not that Baek has been portrayed as an especially pleasant chap to start with, but the videos sure take care of any doubts.

I'm glad that I finally dared watch Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, it was worth the wait, it's a very, very good movie, and I'm sure that I will be returning to it soon. OK so it's the last part of the Vengeance trilogy, but to be honest, they don't have much to do with each other so you can actually just watch any part you want. If you still haven't seen a Chan-woon Park I'd advise you to start with Old Boy, and then if you want more check out Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which are both very good movies, but have some very dark moments. Or if you just want a short, check out his segment Cut from Three Extremes. Like I keep saying, Chan-woon Park is a director that's here to impress, and impress he does.

I also have to take this opportunity to complain about the terrible Scandinavian cover art. If there are so many beautiful poster and original art works for this movie why the fuck do you make a cover with Kill Bill references? Pathetic is the only word that spontaneously springs to mind.

Anamorphic Widescreen. Traditional or Simplified Chinese and English subtitles are optional.

Three options are given; Korean soundtrack 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and dts.

This edition being the first version released in Asia is very sparse with features. There is only a ten minute behind the scenes featurette and two trailers for the movie.

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