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Lady Vengeance

A 2005 South Korean revenge drama directed by Park Chan-wook.

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Park Chan-Wook's "Vengeance Trilogy" Comes in a Dish Served Cold!!

  • Dec 21, 2008

LADY VENGEANCE (aka. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is the third installment in Park Chan-Wook's "vengeance" trilogy, among of which my favorite is the terrific "Oldboy" and the first film ""Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance". These three films have different plotlines and characters; the only thing that ties them together is their similar themes about suffering, revenge and redemption (or the goal for redemption). Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly compare this to "Oldboy" since it cemented Park Chan-Wook's status as a frontrunner of Korean cinema and catapulted him to international stardom beside Kim Ki-Duk and Hong Sang-Soo. One thing with Oldboy and Lady Vengeance (in my opinion are the two best ones of the series); Oldboy is like a shot of the finest Tequila and Lady Vengeance is similar to a shot of the smoothest cognac. Oldboy is scorching fire while Lady Vengeance is ice cold.

Plot synopsis derived from DVD back cover:
After being wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young child, a beautiful young woman (Lee Young-ae) is imprisoned for 13 years and forced to give up her own daughter. While in prison, she gains the respect and loyalty of her fellow cellmates. While in prison, she plots her vendetta on the man responsible for her imprisonment. A man called Baek (Oldboy's Choi Min-Sik). Upon her release she sets in motion an elaborate plan of retribution, but what she discovers is a truth so horrifying, even revenge doesn't seem punishment enough...

Park Chan-Wook has the skill to shock and disturb audiences and Korean critics alike with his style and themes, but he doesn't resort to such exploitative lengths as most Japanese film-makers. Lady Vengeance expands more of subtle character study of Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae, she plays goody character in Dae Jang Geum). I believe the film is divided into 3 parts of a whole. First, with a series of flashbacks, Geum-ja is shown as a woman who has found religion while in prison. She becomes well-liked by other inmates and a model prisoner during her 13-year tenure. She is seen as kind, and develops superb baking skills during this period. Finally, she is revealed to be planning an elaborate revenge against Mr. Baek and enlists the aid of her fellow inmates in orchestrating the plan. The 2nd part is Geum-ja pulls a 180 turn from her reputation in prison; she begins to implement her plan into action with the aid of a retired cop. The 3rd part is the emotional/spiritual aftermath of her vengeance against Mr. Baek.

Geum-ja's character is very calculating but very reserved. Her goal for redemption is expressed with her search for her daughter (adopted by an Australian couple); one may say that her child embodies the good things left in her. She is alluring, cool but sorrowful. Lee Young-Ae's performance is excellent; she does a sort of "femme fatale" portrayal of her character. Geum-ja embodies the sheer determination of a person in a difficult situation who has a vision for redemption, but not after she has "closure" from the wronged done her. Geum-ja has become her own mission. She admits her sins and looks for atonement while at the same time plots sheer revenge. Two contrasting human characteristics are explored, which is the real Geum-ja?

Park Chan-Wook's direction is the work of an artist; evolves before our very eyes while improving the finesse and style of the screenplay itself. Fans may complain that Lady Vengeance may lack the sheer intensity, grittiness and toughness of its predecessors but I think it would unfair to expect Park to repeat the raw impact of Oldboy with its uncompromising twists. Lady Vengeance may be a bit slower paced and "gentler" with its style. Park also uses some subtle symbolism embodied with a man-faced dog with a bullet entering its brow and exiting its "vital" genitalia. It has a great, even feel and the proceedings stay grounded. Choi Min-Sik's performance is also note-worthy; he establishes a truly sadistic but pitiable portrayal of Baek. He plays it with a disturbing normalcy despite the character's twisted nature.

The film has its potential flaws; some may feel that the different tone in the 3rd act steers the screenplay a bit off course. It changes its focus to many; some viewers may see the 3rd act as equivalent to an "AA" gathering. However, I rather think it is meant as an expression of Geum-ja's realization that her selfish vengeance should not be that important nor her main focus. The third act is both darkly funny and engrossing. Viewers will have to keep in mind that this is a character study (of sorts) up till its closing credits.
It is to be noted that the film's way of handling violence is a different from its predecessors; much of it occurs off-camera than full view. I think this approach is handled well and delivers a more profound effect. Park considers the situation and succeeds in delivering the violence on a more personal level. I will stop here because with this film, the less you know about the proceedings then the more you'll appreciate its vision.

LADY VENGEANCE successfully closes Park's vengeance trilogy. This trilogy will definitely find its mark as one of the most engaging bits of film-making. I've read that Park is usually accused of making films mostly with his brain and not his heart, I guess that's why he made "I'm a Cyborg, and that's ok". Park is now assured that every film he makes will be anticipated by fans and critics alike.


Dvd cover Lee Young Ae Hungry for revenge scene reunion Korean Poster

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September 09, 2010
Liked this one as well WP, vengeance always makes for a great movie, especially here.
December 15, 2009
I just read your title as I'm getting ready to post my own review on this film. I guess we had the same train of thought!
December 16, 2009
This was one of my older reviews that I wrote way back in 2006. Now looking at it, I think I can probably write a better one now.
February 01, 2009
This one is already on my list and after this review its being moved up about 80 spots! You've done your usual excellent job, Woop. You make me so jealous.
More Lady Vengeance reviews
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
Of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, this is my least favorite entry. The film is full of the expected twists and turns that are common in his films, but somehow this one didn't have the dark, gritty realism of the first two installments. Part of the issue is that much of the film is overly stylized and features slightly surreal visual flares that give it a more fantastical quality making it a little hard to discern what is reality, what is memory, and what is dream. Another issue, although …
Quick Tip by . May 16, 2011
I felt like the entire first hour of this was skippable, as it was a pastiche of all kinds of genre conventions/Park trying to be Quentin Tarantino making "Kill Bill." But it gets interesting once she's caught the guy - the last 45 minutes or so are quite fascinating.
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
Scary and stylish. This is my favorite from the revenge trilogy.
review by . July 17, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Young boy, sad mistake  Thirteen years, long time to wait  Snow falls on white cake
review by . December 21, 2008
The last of the "Vengeance Trilogy" is also the last for me as well, I have finally seen all three. Lady Vengeance is definitely not the best of the three but it was still one sick flick. Let's set it off, the film starts out just a little slow and a little weird and even more weird than the other two. Lee Geum-ja who was wrongly put in prison for murder is finally getting out. While inside she basically goes from a sweet and innocent girl to a rather cold and vengeful nutcase. Though she has developed …
review by . December 14, 2006
This film is really good. Park Chanwook made the perfect conclusion to a trilogy with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The three films work off each other beautifully, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is far from a disappointment.The acting is top-notch, with cameos from Park Chanwook's first two films intermingling with new talent. The directing is superb, not quite eclipsing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy but coming quite close. Park's directing style is solid and distinctive; he builds off earlier …
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William ()
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