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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

LADY VENGEANCE -- Movie Review by Porfle

I first thought LADY VENGEANCE, aka Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), was going to be another hot-action-babe flick along the lines of MS. 45. So it came as a pleasant surprise to find that it's the most thoughtful, richly artistic and deeply introspective film in Park Chan-wook's notorious "vengence trilogy." It's also the one in which Park Chan-wook seems to express his most heartfelt, poetic, and yes, sympathetic thoughts on the subject.

The story begins with Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) being released from prison after serving 13 years for the kidnap and murder of a little boy, Won-mo. Former cellmates with whom she reunites on the outside are shocked to find that the cheerful and loving "angel" they knew before now appears to be cold and emotionless.

In reality, she's been gaining their allegiance in order to use them to help carry out a plan of revenge against Won-mo's actual killer, Mr. Baek (OLDBOY star Min-sik Choi), a serial child murderer who threatened to kill Geum-ja's infant daughter if she didn't confess to the crime. The fact that she aided in Won-mo's abduction (naively thinking it to be the same sort of "good" kidnapping as described in SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) makes her desire for atonement and redemption all-consuming.

Geum-ja tracks down her now 14-year-old daughter Jenny (Yea-young Kwon), who thinks that her mother "dumped" her, and desperately tries to reconcile with her. In the meantime, she has found Mr. Baek, still working as a school teacher and preying on children.

She summons the families of several murdered children to an abandoned school, shows them Baek's own videotapes of his gruesome deeds, and reveals to them that he is bound and gagged in the next room. Geum-ja then gives them all a choice--turn him over to the legal system, or deal with him themselves.

Flashbacks of the beatific image Geum-ja projected while in prison are starkly contrasted with her later zombie-like state, which reflects a deep self-loathing. These jarring impressions are often depicted with abrupt editing and off-kilter camera angles.

Only when she reunites with Jenny does she allow her feelings to overwhelm her again, and as the story becomes more emotional Park Chan-wook's direction settles into a more stately and elegant style while remaining fluid and inventive.

This is especially true of the protracted revenge sequence in the abandoned school, as Park lingers on the inner conflict and seething rage of the family members. As the film winds down to a wistful and almost dreamlike denouement, with Geum-ja grasping for a last fleeting chance at redemption, we're left with haunting, delicately-wrought images of serene beauty and sadness.

There are several fascinating closeups of the remarkable Yeong-ae Lee as she runs the gamut of emotions with impressive depth. One that's particularly striking comes near the end, when her face twists into a masklike rictus of mindless, sadistic glee. Hardly the typical action heroine, her anger is expressed in messy, kinetic bursts.

There is one thrilling sequence, however, in which she fights off two attackers hired by Mr. Baek (Ha-kyun Shin and Kang-ho Song of SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) in a snowy alleyway at night, and for a brief moment is given full cinematic awesomeness by Park Chan-wook.

It's been said that LADY VENGEANCE lapses into the conventional by having a one-dimensional bad guy devoid of the usual shadings. I think it's good that Park ends the trilogy by finally giving us a bastard who clearly and richly deserves his punishment, which serves as an uneasy catharsis for the viewer as well as the story's participants.

Still, their satisfaction is short-lived and brings not happiness, but merely another level of spiritual uncertainty that they must continue to deal with. If Park hadn't touched on this aspect of revenge and explored its consequences, the trilogy begun by SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and OLDBOY would have been incomplete.

Read our full review of Palisade Tartan Asia Extreme's eight-disc DVD set THE VENGEANCE TRILOGY

Read our review of OLDBOY


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