Published on April 12th, 2006 | by Greg0
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
When a teenage girl confesses to the murdering of 5-year-old boy, the media is enthralled by her youthful naivete, her beauty, and her ruthlessness. 13 years later she walks out of prison a free woman, known as ‘Geum-ja the generous.’ But far from trying to move on with her life as a good Christian should, she is instead planning to kill again. She is determined to find the real murderer and make them pay.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance closes a trilogy by Chan-wook Park. The other two movies both center on revenge. Oldboy is about a man who seeks revenge against the unknown person who held him prisoner and killed his wife. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is about a kidnapping gone horribly wrong, resulting in a free-for-all revenge spree. They do not have the same characters (though sometimes the same actors), but instead it is a trilogy in the style of France’s Trois Couleurs .
Unfortunately Sympathy for Lady Vengeance does not live up to the other two. It is still a pretty solid film, but it is incomplete. Unlike Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the romance is lacking emotion. Does Geum-ja care about the guy she’s sleeping with? We’re not sure. Though as a guy as naive as she was when she went to prison and the same age as her victim would be, he adds a wonderful counterpoint and conflict to her life. Rather, he could have if we had seen more of him. He disappears off screen for a good third of the movie and is put in the background for the rest.
Unlike the other two main characters of the other movies, who are both male, she has almost no vulnerability. We see her crying at some point, but it’s hard to imagine this stone-cold woman doing anything but pretending. She is given complex emotions like guilt and sympathy to contrast with her determined vengeance, but the struggle to come to where she is happened before the movie and we are not shown it in flashbacks. Even the narration, which in Oldboy was solely spoken by the main character, in this movie switches from Geum-ja to a generic storyteller, distancing even further the inner struggle from the audience.
Much like the other two, the cinematography was beautiful, the plot was complicated but handled well, and the characters were interesting. Watching from beginning to end I was never bored. The direction the story went was surprising and believable. While Lady Vengeance did not live up to Mr. Vengeance in emotion or Oldboy in action scenes, Lady Vengeance is still a worthy part of this trilogy and a decent film in its own right. This film was screened at HIFF Spring, but we saw it on the now-available DVD with English subtitiles- check sites like eBay. It will be getting a broader release in theatres here this summer, make sure to check it out if Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is playing near you.