Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a review of Chanwook Park's SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE from a spy named Butternuts... Buttercup! I mean Buttercup! Anyway, this Buttercup has not seen either of Chanwook Park's more notable films, the first two films in the VENGEANCE TRILOGY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and the brilliant OLDBOY. So, it's a rather unique perspective on this film. Word has also reached my ears that the US distributor for SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (Tartan) has decided to retitle the film to just LADY VENGEANCE. I know what I'll always call it, so it makes little difference to me. Hopefully they'll do better at putting this film in front of the innocent mass movie goers than they did with Park's previous films. Anyway, here's the review! Enjoy!!!
It's Buttercup here. I'm a bit rusty at writing reviews, so I hope this is okay. My friend and I watched Sympathy for Lady Vengeance tonight, the third and final part of Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy. Just some quick background: I haven't seen Old Boy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - in fact, I don't think I've knowingly watched a Korean film for years because I had a rather scarring experience one festival with a Korean film offering a large helping of (essentially) S&M porn. So, I was apprehensive walking into Lady Vengeance because all I knew was that it was by the Old Boy director and that Old Boy was extremely violent in parts. Lady Vengeance was quite different than what I expected though.
The film looks beautiful from its opening credits; a stark white background with trailing vines connecting from screen to screen. White is a predominant colour in the film; sinning and redemption are two of the key themes. The main character is Lee Geum-ja, a beautiful woman who was imprisoned 13 years for the kidnapping and murder of a 5-year old boy. The film constantly jumps between the present-day and flashbacks, so we see clearly what Geum-ja was like at 19-years old, when she entered the prison, and how she is today. Lee Yeong-ae is brilliant as Geum-ja; not only does she invoke the sympathies of her cellmates, but we too fall under the spell of the woman who is referred to as both "Kind Hearted" and "The Witch."
Lady Vengeance is much less violent than I expected it to be; while there are obviously key moments when it occurs, much of what happens is left to our imaginations. I found that there were quite a lot of twists and turns (but maybe that was because I walked into the film knowing nothing about it?) - not exactly surprises, but I felt almost like I had a rope in my hands and was walking along holding it, constantly weaving around corners and not quite sure where it would lead me. It felt like a process of discovery instead of those "Oh My God" moments which floor you. I also found that the film became increasingly suspenseful as it progressed from: introducing us to Geum-ja, to unveiling her master plan piece by piece, to the twists lurking as she proceeds with her plan.
I was definitely impressed by the film and how it managed to be powerful, yet also somehow subdued or subtle. Overall, I'm left with a strong impression of a balancing act - the direction, the themes, the acting. Anyway, I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.