Forget Kill Bill.
Screw Quentin Tarantino.
There is one filmatic revenge series to obsess over and it doesn’t come from the mighty shores of California. Chan-wook Park’s final installment to his vengeance trilogy, Lady Vengeance, has just been released on US DVD and it is an awesome way to end the series, indeed.
Where Tarantino gave us two films full of exquisite style and very little substance, Park finds time to explore the meaning between the bloodletting.
Where Tarantino created an amazing genre-bending exploitation masterpiece, Park has made a violent, stylish trilogy that is more than just eye candy.
That’s all the Kill Bill references I’ll make, I promise.
Lady Vengeance (which was forever named Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, until the good people at Tartan decided it needed a little spiffing) is a tad slower, and less action-oriented than the other two in the trilogy, but it is the final in the series and like Kill Bill Vol. 2 (darn it, ok I swear that was the last one, for real this time) the series needs a little grounding.
Lee Geum-Ja (Yeong-ae Lee) is sent to prison at the age of 19 for the abduction and murder of a small child. Truth in fact she did not murder or abduct the boy (she merely helped keep him) but takes the blame for her accomplice, Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi) because he threatens her own child with violent harm if she does not.
She spends 13 years in prison for those crimes and while there she makes good with everybody. She is the perfect inmate – she finds religion, helps out, cares for an elderly inmate, and even donates an organ – all the while she meticulously plots her revenge.
Upon release, she uses her former cellmates to help get her revenge and extols it in true Chan-wook Park fashion.
Although served deathly cold, the revenge is not so sweet. In fact it is quite bitter and does not relieve Geum-Ja of guilt like she thought it would. Like all of the films in the trilogy, Lady Vengeance delves deep into the consequence of being wronged and how finding vengeance reaps more than it sows.
The film is astonishingly beautiful. Bathed in gorgeous color and light that makes even the most blood-soaked scenes look as delectable as the desirous confections Geum-Ja is so good at making.
With only four films under his belt, Park has proven he is an artist of the finest measure.
As mentioned, the film is slightly more subdued than the others. There are no liver donations as performed by hoodlums, no ironic circle jerks, and certainly no massive fist-fights as performed in small hallways, but what it lacks in extremism it finds in emotional gravitas.
Yeong-ae Lee is to Chan-wook Park as Uma Thruman is to Quentin Tarantino (oh forget it, you can’t review Lady Vengeance without referencing Kill Bill, at least not in this house.) Gawd just looking in her eyes would make a cold stone weep. She plays the role of Geum-ja with an intensity of a thousand suns, yet manages to keep an eternal sadness just below the surface. It is a performance worthy of honor.
For once Park has ended a vengeance film with something resembling a happy ending. No, the vengeance isn’t really vindicated, nor is Geum-ja satisfied, but unlike the preceding films, the violence, and vengeance seem to stop here. And that seems to be enough.
It may not be as gut-wrenchingly satisfying an ending as we get in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy, but it is one that rings the finality to the trilogy, one that serves as an answer to the questions brought up by all three films.
3 thoughts on “Lady Vengeance (2005)”
Nice review. I’m fan of the so-called vengeance trilogy, and I have my own reservations for Tarantino as well.
Truth be told I dug both Kill Bills a great deal, but Park’s films make Tarantinos look like video games.
like SFMV, “Lady Vengeance” has particular attention to detail, from graceful pans and tilts, to beautifully crafted mise en scene, and the effect is that of a modern day fable of morality, kidknappings and atonement. and just as SFMV, the delicate approach to the theme of kidknapping, is subtley composed as a posed to SFMV’s brutal reality, altough both kidnaps effectively end in the same result