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Sympathy For Lady Vengeance 
Written by: on January 18th, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: Korea, 2005
Director: Chan-Wook Park
Cast: Min-sik Choi, Anne Cordiner, Su-hee Go, Hye-jeong Kang, Bu-seon Kim, Byeong-ok Kim, Shi-hoo Kim

DVD released: 22nd December 2005
Approximate running time: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: III
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo/5.1/ DTS
DVD Release: Panorama
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC
Retail Price: HK$90

Synopsis: Geum-Ja was sent to prison for kidnapping and murdering a young boy. After 13 years of prison life she has gained a reputation for being a good hearted Christian who pities the weak and infirm. When she is released she is greeted by the preacher she has won over and she tells him to “go screw yourself”. Similarly her fellow ex-prisoners note that she has changed and talk of her plan to get vengeance. We learn that there is a man she must seek out for this and that she gave up her child when she was sent to prison. We also learn that the police inspector didn’t believe her confession to the murder. Geum-Ja’s kindness in prison is now her route to revenge, but is the revenge only hers?

Supposedly the third part of Chan Wook-Park’s Vengeance trilogy, Lady Vengeance is a virtuoso display of filmmaking technique like Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance before it. The film though is more than that as Wook-Park explores themes of punishment, redemption and purity. Thankfully, the film is a more involving movie than Oldboy which I felt was slightly too mechanical and distanced, especially when it lost momentum as it explained itself. Here the tragedy of the human desire for revenge and the seeming impossibility of redemption are more carefully worked through with the flashy effects of Oldboy forsaken for more of storytelling approach with effects serving the ends of the tale.

There is a lot of humanity in Lady Vengeance but no sentimentality. When Geum-Ja finds her villain she learns that her revenge is selfish as his crimes go beyond her imprisonment and thus begins a very dark satire of sharing revenge. All of this is very understandable, but the idea of the vengeful parents taking a number to queue to punish the villain is comic. Once the vengeance is executed the avengers sit down to share a chocolate cake but they are more concerned with getting kidnap money returned than sharing their pain. Geum-Ja finds no peace either and finishes the film advocating purity to her daughter whilst knowing she will never recover that virtue herself.

As I said there is great technique here. At one point the camera seems to pan from a view of Geum-Ja in a street then through a solid wall to an introductory shot of the film’s villain. The composition of the film is excellent throughout with a particularly brilliant shot involving a young Geom-Ja on a payphone whilst fish swim around a giant aquarium.

Another great moment is where Geom-Ja dreams of the villain as a dog she drags out into the snow to shoot through his face and out his fundament. My one quibble with Wook-Park’s choices is the scene in Australia where Geom-Ja and the foster parents of her daughter are stoned on dope – a slapstick scene which serves no function other than distancing and ruins the momentum.

This though is a great piece of work – distinctive, uncompromising and a much better mix of form and content than Oldboy.

The DVD:

Panorama has released the film in Anamorphic Widescreen with a fine print which shows off the excellent dark colour scheme of the film. There is grain from the transfer but it is a good transfer.

The sound comes in three choices – 5.1, stereo and DTS – the DTS track is excellent and detailed, but the 5.1 track disappears at 61 minutes! The English subtitles are very good with occasional lapses in correct tense, e.g. grew instead of grow for instance.

The disc comes in a slipcase with two trailers for the film and a short behind the scenes segment which is subtitled. The featurette is very odd to watch as Choi Min-Sik orchestrates the scenes with young children so well and his rapport is so genuine that it causes you pause for thought given his character’s evil towards them in the main feature.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is excellent stuff from a truly visionary director; the Panorama DVD will be bettered by future releases with the complete 5.1 track, subtitles and a cleaner transfer.

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