Lady Vengeance

Starring: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi and Shi-hoo Kim
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3671
Certificate: 18
Available 08 May 2006

Lee Geum-Ja spends thirteen years behind bars for a crime she did not commit, namely the abduction and murder of a young child. Calling in favours with her previous cell mates, Lee devises an elaborate plan to revenge herself against the man who was really responsible...

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) is the third part in writer and director Chan-wook Park's trilogy of "Vengeance" movies which also include 2002's Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and 2003's Oldboy. The first hour of the film is told in a non linear fashion with scenes of both the past and present being intermixed with dream sequences. Prior to the commencement of the main plot we learn of her relationship with her various co-conspirators and the reason that she would admit to a crime she didn't commit.

This is the main weakness of a film that so nearly could have been called a masterpiece. Lee confesses to the crime because the real killer has her daughter. Fair enough, but whilst in prison the killer puts the child up for adoption in Australia. Surely at that point, with her child safe, she would have tried to implicate the killer. Even if she had been unsure of her daughter's fate would she really leave her child in the care of a child killer? The relationship with the child becomes a further weakness later in the film, when Lee is finally reunited with her daughter. With so many other things going on in the plot it feels like there relationship is rushed, making it less than satisfying and not as relevant to the story as I presume it should have been, as it provides one of the motivations for Lee's desire for revenge.

The film is very violent and this is most probably why it is marketed to a post Tarantino generation. There is some truth in this, in that both directors enjoy playing with the format of film story telling and both use violence, not as entertainment but as a means of psychologically unsettling the audience. Comparison could be made with Tarantino's Kill Bill. Both films deal with women out for revenge after being away, Uma Thurman's character in a coma and Lee Geum-Ja in prison, but there the similarities end. Whilst, Kill Bill, was a stylish film Lady Vengeance is more about the act of revenge and the toll it takes on both the perpetrator and the victim. The last hour of the film is an unsettling examination between the killer's rights and the rights of his victims and their families. Revenge, it seems, is never as easy or as satisfying as you would think. Revenge exacts a price, the price being a piece of your soul.

Both direction and cinematography on this film is beautiful. Snow is used throughout to signify both innocence and the loss of it; some of the most memorable scenes are those which use the snow as a backdrop.

The beautiful and talented Yeong-ae Lee turns in a truly inspiring performance, going from angel to devil, sometimes in the course of a single scene. If there's one think I've learnt watching Asian films is you don't want to get on the wrong side of a woman, their capacity for grim and graphic violence seems to know few boundaries. Min-sik Choi as the villain, and in some interpretations the ultimate victim of the piece, is so convincing as the child killing psychopath, that in the final reel I would imagine that most of the audience would quite happily disembowel him.

The disc has a very generous number of audio choices. You can choose to watch in Korean stereo, 5.1 or DTS, with subtitles. The DTS track is the one to go for as this shows off the films soundscape the best. The print is crystal clear, but that is only to be expected on such a recent movie.

The extras are a bit disappointing, the original DVD release of the film came with a "Making of" featurette, a bunch of interviews and a copy of the film as the director had intended to make it. The main change to the version presented here is that it was the director's intention to have the film start in full colour and gradually fade to black and white. In the Tartan review copy I received, there is only an interview with Chan-wook Park - where he spends much of the time extolling the acting virtues of Yeong-ae Lee. He also discusses what is held to be the main weakness of the film - that of her relationship with her daughter and her motivation for going after Mr Baek. Though his explanation puts this part of the narrative in context, I still feel that it is the central weakness of the film. The interview runs at a reasonable forty-one minutes - though as he has everything interpreted for him the interview is shorter than it would appear.

Also on the extras we get the Original Theatrical Trailer and an Asia Extreme Trailer Reel. That said, it may have just been my copy as the DVD sleeve that was provided clearly states that the commentary from the director and cinematographer are included as well as the "Making of" documentary, so best check which version you are getting before purchasing the film.

Overall this is a must have film for lovers of stylish and thought provoking adult drama. Watch it, you won't be disappointed; the film is a near masterpiece.

Charles Packer

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