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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame] "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance"

2013/11/16 | Permalink

In the Spotlight this Week: "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" by Park Chan-wook

Revenge is a deeply personal affliction, a stubborn demon that relentlessly haunts and hinders until it is suitably exorcised from our fleshly casings. Usually such a drive has just one corrupted driver, a single soul who sets out to rebalance the scales against those who infected their world. In Park Chan-wook's award-winning "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" (2005), that model of revenge was given an edgy feminine salting as Park mused over mob justice in the most intimate fashion imaginable. The film forms the final bloody act in Park's, critically acclaimed and labelled, 'Vengeance Trilogy'. It's a gut-wrenching cinematic series of revengeful events that pushed the boundaries of the thriller genre – the unofficial pirate ship of modern Korean cinema.

Freshly ejected from a women's prison due to good behaviour, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) bypasses the tradition of gorging herself on the white purity found in tofu. She is damaged and determined to find, and end, the psychopath that forced her to take the fall for the murder of a young boy. She is calm, calculating, and stands red with wrath; a woman scorned and sullied by the devilish cruelty of one man (Mr. Baek played by Choi Min-sik), and now he's left a string of young corpses in his wake. Geum-ja was forced to plead guilty to save the life of her own daughter, whom she soon discovers lives safely in Australia with her new adopted family. During her time behind bars, Geum performs a number of prudent acts and wins over her fellow inmates, earning her the title "kind-hearted Geum-ja". This respect earns her a number of useful contacts as she slowly nurtures her very own revenge support community – a team she calls upon to move against her dark postman.  As she strides to salvation in pumps and Red Eye shadow, Geum-ja discovers that her magic bullet will have to be somehow shared between all the other families affected by Mr. Baek's long and twisted history of killings.

"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" pulled in almost 3 million admissions during its run at the local box office, an impressive haul that secured it a top ten for its year. In addition to being commercially successful, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" helped actress Lee Young-ae claim a number of 'Best Actress' awards from more than a handful of local award organisations. These included praise from the Blue Dragon Film Awards, the Grand Bell Awards, the Paeksang Arts Awards, and the Korean Film awards. Lee's numbing performance spearheads the entire journey, and marked the actress's last feature before she choose to pursue other ventures and focus on her personal life. The film itself is, as one has come to expect from this cinematic maestro, beautifully shot and at times even exhibits images that one might expect to find in the avant-garde division of film-being. The score, and other well-executed and potent stylistic inclusions, makes emotional demands that some may find hard to answer, or even divorce themselves from once Park has dragged them in.

This is not an easy film to watch, it is a thoughtful and emotionally demanding event. Filmgoers will find its progression as gruelling, but also deliriously cathartic, as Geum-ja's own quest to salvation. Interestingly, the film contains two versions; the atypical/experimental one can be found on the Special Edition DVD and boxset versions. In it, Geum-ja's tormenting journey is slowly sapped of its colour, so by the time the film's final moments arrive the screen would have faded to a cold monochrome finish (called the "Fade to White version"). But whatever tinged take of Park's sympathetic and sadistic tail of revenge you choose to gorge yourself on, be prepared to make a permanent place in your filmic memory banks for this epic, thought-provoking, and icy Korean dish.

- C.J. Wheeler (


Available on DVD amd Blu-ray from YESASIA

DVD (HK) (En Sub) Blu-ray + DVD HK (En Sub)

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