Saturday, 16 January 2016

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

Title: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
Director:  Park Chan-wook
Released: 2005
Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kwon Yea-young, Kim Shi-hoo, Oh Dal-su, Lee Seung-Shin, Kim Byeong-ok, Ra Mi-ran, Seo Young-ju, Kim Boo-seon

Plot: Wrongly imprisoned for the kidnap and murder of a young boy, Lee Guem-Ja (Lee Young-ae)  has spent the last thirteen years plotting her revenge on the man responsible Mr Baek (Choi Min-sik). Now with the help of the prisoners she helped while serving her sentence she sets out to put her plan into action.

Review:  The third and final film in Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” following on from “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy” while it is also a trilogy more in the sense of reoccurring themes and ideas rather than characters, while Chan-Wook’s trilogy can equally be known for just how beautiful he manages to make the look of revenge, despite the fact that he has his characters over the course of the trilogy carry out some truly ugly acts. More frustatingly though is the fact that the bookend films in this trilogy are generally overshadowed by “Oldboy” a film which has gone onto alongside “Battle Royale” and “The Raid:Redemption” become one of the few subtitled movies that everyone including none subtitle fans have seen. This of course is only more of a shame especially when this film alongside “Symphony for Mr. Vengeance” are equally as good if not better than the middle film in this trilogy a case I have especially argued for this film.

Opening with the release of the angelic Guem-Ja its hard to imagine that she will soon transform herself into an Angel of Vengeance but as she rejects the offer of snow white tofu from the gathering of Christians outside the prison its clear that she has no plans of living pure as her consumption of the tofu would symbolise. Soon though she is wearing her trademark red eye shadow and leather coat but not before she has attempted to apologise to the parents of the boy she is accused of murdering by cutting off her finger in an attempt it would seem to cut them all off which goes down as well as can be expected.

One of the great aspects of this film is how this time is seeing how Geum-ja puts her plan into action, visiting paroled inmates she helped while in prision she is quickly able to assemble everything she needs and it’s during this portion of the film that we not only get to meet this colourful group of characters including my personal favourites the husband and wife bank robber team and a plump lesbian responsible for killing and barbequing her family, while we also learn the things that Geum-ja did to help each of them from caring for them to the more extreme donating of a kidney and slowly poisoning the prison bully making it little surprise with so many selfless deeds being done by her that they are so keen to help her with her plans for revenge. Of course the path to revenge is never a straight path and it was never truer than here as even with all the tools required to carry out her revenge she soon discovers that her situation may just be a small part of a much larger picture which soon leads to a much more chilling finale which comes completely by surprise yet at the same time makes for a fitting finale for the trilogy as a whole.

As with the previous entries in the trilogy Chan-Wook once more brings a distinct visual look to the film as here the grim cityscapes are countered by the purity of nature, with his use of snow being especially effective as we are reminded once more of how effective blood on snow can look. Despite more once containing some memorable scenes of violence throughout, though perhaps nothing to the levels seen in “Oldboy” here he goes more for subtly over splatter while at the same time making it look stunning to watch, proving once more that such stunning visuals shouldn’t be kept solely to arthouse and prestige pictures.

For those coming to the film after the spectacle of “Oldboy” they may find themselves slightly disappointed by the slower pacing of this film, much less the lack of shocking scenes as no one is eating live squid or taking on multiple thugs with a hammer here. This is of course not to say much like “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” that the film is lacking in its own memorable moments such as the touching reunion with her daughter now living in Australia with her adopted parents or the showdown with a pair of thugs in which Geum-ja constantly has to keep judging her position to ensure her gun is in range. Geum-ja constantly proving that she is far from the fragile doll despite the angelic persona she equally hides that of a devil aswell as she proves herself more than capable of handling herself or carrying out ruthless deeds without any concern for the morals of her actions.

On equally great form is Choi Min-sik who after playing the antihero lead in “Oldboy” here returns as the villain of the film Mr Baek and who like Geum-ja does his own great job of showing two very different sides to his personality as he hides behind the persona of being a friendly primary school teacher who we see in one seen happily entertaining his class with a rendition of “Two Little Dickie Birds” before showing him at home brutally abusing his wife, who it turns out is also a former cellmate of Geum-ja who married him as part of her revenge plot which makes you wonder what else Geum-ja did that we didn’t see to inspire such loyalty and favours from these former convicts.   The fact that he is such a hedious character certainly makes his fate easier to accept, especially from the surface details such as him being an abusive husband, but the fact that Chan-Wook is able to add further grime to his character as Geum-ja gets closer to completing her revenge only hightens the film above just another run of the mill revenge flick.

While it’s true that this entry is more concerned with its styling and cinematography than the previous entry, much less slower paced this is far from a boring watch, thanks to its interesting characters and Chan-Wook’s ability to

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