"It was okay for me how about you?" (Geum-ja to her young boy assistant after a night together in bed)
Well, actually it was a lot more than okay for me, although not perfect.
"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is the final chapter in Park Chan-wooks vengeance trilogy ("Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Oldboy" being the two others). Lady Vengeance is probably the flashiest of the lot, but it is a bit like a three-course dinner, where you love the two courses, but the third course spoils things a little thats how it was for me, anyway.
Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is being released after 13 years in prison after being charged with the murder and kidnapping of a small boy. During her stay in prison she has been saved by religion and become a saint to the other inmates helping them get through the atrocities of prison life. However, as we soon see, every little act of kindness was calculated in order to enlist the other former prisoners help in getting her revenge. The person responsible for her being in jail is Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), a man who richly deserves every kind of revenge, she can dish out and boy, can she dish it out!
Why he deserves it, and how he gets it, you will find out, when you see the film and see it you must.
Will revenge save Geum-ja? Can someone like her be saved? Is revenge more important to her than stopping Mr. Baek from doing what he is doing? You will have to judge for yourself.
The film has three parts. In the first part you see Geum-ja leaving prison, and in flashbacks we see why her fellow inmates named her "Kindly Miss Geum-ja" (which is also the Korean title of the film). In the second part it is revealed that her kindness was part of her plan for getting revenge and we see her planning her revenge. The third and final part is the execution of the revenge.
And here we get back to my three-course dinner: I would have preferred a different starter. The first part is very light and humorous too much so in my opinion. Maybe its the religious overtones, maybe its cultural differences it does not work for me. What works beautifully for me are the main course (the planning) and the dessert (the revenge revenge is sweet just like a dessert should be, is it not?).
Of course the three parts was fully planned by director Park. "More than 90% of my films are fully planned before shooting starts very little is improvised along the way" director Park said at this years Berlin Film Festival, where he was giving a talk at the talent camp. The color tone of the film will give you an idea of this: The first part is in bright warm colors, the second part starts to fade into darker and bleaker colors and the final part is nearly monochrome. As a matter of fact some versions of the film have the third part completely in black and white.
This is so effective in establishing the mood of the parts, that you should not settle for less than the version fading into black and white, when you buy the DVD (the Korean two disc special edition has both versions and you can easily see, how the black and white ending is much stronger).
The part as Lady Vengeance is one of the strongest and biggest female parts I have seen in Korean films (or anywhere) and the choice of Lee Young-ae is perfect. She is on screen nearly every second and she is magnificent. Her beauty and screen presence is mesmerizing. You dont doubt her for a second, and you would do anything she asks of you! She was also at the Berlin Film Festival this year as a member of the International Jury. When asked, what her next project was, she said: "I still havent gotten Sympathy for Lady Vengeance out of my head". It is understandable and her dedication to her part shows on the screen.
However, not only the acting will take your breath away, but also the sheer virtuosity of the cinematography, editing and all the other tricks of the trade will leave you gasping.
"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is a fitting end to the vengeance trilogy. Park Chan-wook has created three films that all will leave a permanent impression not only in Korea but also all over the world. With his audacity and virtuosity he is the frontrunner of the new exciting filmmakers in Korea.