A couple years back, I watched Oldboy upon recommendation of… well, pretty much anyone who had seen it. Now that I have, this is also my personal recommendation for you, reader, to watch it. Though be warned: it gets a tad gruesome.
What do you do when you watch a film that’s really good? Go through the director’s other works in search of things just as good, if not better, of course! Thus, here I am with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (or just Lady Vengeance in certain regions). Based on synopsis alone, and the reputation it has for being part of director Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” I was expecting a lot of similarities to Oldboy. I ended up being only partially correct!
Quick and Lazy Synopsis
Lee Geum-ja has served thirteen years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a six-year-old boy. The twist? She didn’t actually murder the boy. Forced by the circumstances at the time, she now plans for revenge.
A majority of the film will chronicle the unfolding of her plan, thirteen years in the making. Along the way, she’ll have to come to grips with the aftermath of everything, including the people whom she’s used in the past.
Chan-wook has such a fascinating way of exposition. True, voiceover is kind of maligned amongst cinephiles as cheap or lazy, yet like anything else, it’s all about incorporation.
How Did We Get Here?
There are a lot of flashbacks in Lady Vengeance. Especially in the first half, it may be difficult for people to get a grip on where is what and why it all matters. This is not a film you passively view while on your phone or doing things in the meantime. It requires your full attention to soak up all the details and significance of every scene.
Though, admittedly, this can be challenging in the beginning. Characters appear in and out of shots at random. They look slightly different depending on the scene. Who are these people? What is their purpose to the plot? You will have to give the story some time; it has a lot of explaining to do.
After a while, all the puzzle pieces come together to create a deceptive image. Lee Geum-ja is so kind-hearted, except not really. Her facade fades away the moment she’s placed back into the real world. From there, the film explores the very depths of her deceit, showcasing her interactions with many inmates and the gradual unveiling of what drove her to take the blame for a crime she didn’t commit.
Like Oldboy, quick and thorough scenes come in and out of focus for as long as absolutely necessary. Many are rather brutal and cruel—it sets the tone for the kind of film this is. While not quite as twisted as prior work, many grueling topics remain, treated with the kind of tact that imitates a cold, calculative reality. Certainly not for the faint of heart.
Nevertheless, this bluntness is the strength of the film for me. Certain things can be interpreted from the situations present, but I thoroughly enjoyed how everything progressed in a relatively straightforward manner. Efficient, methodical, disciplined. A more emotional bombardment comes as it closes in on the end, making for an appropriate respite from all the work done. The final few scenes were my favorites of the entire film.
Less Is More
Stemming from a growing fatigue in writing and the desire to keep new viewers fresh, I won’t go much deeper into the theoretical portions of the film. Instead, I’ll break down some technical aspects.
Performances were fairly exceptional throughout. No one true star performer, I felt, though I was able to take just about everyone seriously. One child actor was somewhat hit-or-miss and a specific couple felt a little too… I don’t know, odd? Outside of them, it’s clear that there was a lot put into maintaining a cool atmosphere, at risk of erupting into fury at any moment.
Camera work had a lot of variety to it, making things fun to take in. T’was rarely a single back and forth shot of people conversing for several minutes; it zoomed around and spun and focused on the core essence of each scene. A character’s cold stare; soap; tongues taking in snow; the blood dripping off a pair of scissors. So much stock taken into absorbing the bitter details that create emotion within scenes.
Everything should be pretty.
I’ll have to watch Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance soon enough to complete the trilogy. If this and Oldboy are any indication, it’s that Chan-wook is a marvelous director that gets the most out of the situations presented onscreen. Lady Vengeance displays a prominence in directing and innate knowledge in how to create complex characters battling their own demons. Immensely satisfying and (generally) entertaining, it’s my favorite film of the month thus far.
Final Score: 8.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.