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Korean 'Vengeance Trilogy' Wraps Up in Style

2005/09/12 | Permalink | Source

[Film Review] "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" by Park Chan Wook
Email Article Print Article Kim Soung Su (onomatos)

"Why don't you go screw yourself".

"Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" (2005), the new film from the famous Korean film director Park Chan-wook begins with these words. The film is the final chapter of his vengeance trilogy. Expectations were high that Park would deliver a new noir film masterpiece.

But Park is not as successful this time as he was previously with "Old Boy" (2003), the Jury Grand Prix film at the 54th annual Cannes Film Festival 2004. "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" failed to win any major Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival 2005. It only received three small prizes.

Nevertheless, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is impressive. Its mis-en-scène, (setting and acting) is better than "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002), the first of the trilogy, and the cinematography is as elegant as "Old Boy", the second of the trilogy. Like his previous films, it has a harmony of visuals and music.

"Vengeance" stimulates audiences to think of their lives and worlds. From ancient mythology to contemporary fiction, its dramatic theme postulates human emotions as well as relationships to create a very emotional impact.

However, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is not as good as "Old Boy". The film narrative is difficult to understand and the story-telling is unnatural, considering that it is a noir film which is usually easier to grasp. Nevertheless, Park's creative mind is a marvel to behold.

From the start, Park emphasizes that "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" is a surreal and grotesque film, using many techniques such as subtitles, narration, and more importantly, much action and dialogue from Geumja (Lee Young-ae), the protagonist. But, overall there are too many techniques for a story which is normally portrayed realistically.

Overall, the film has two crucial weak elements in terms of narrative. Firstly, unlike the two previous films, it is not a tragedy but a black comedy used to mock human society. Secondly, although surrealistic images are quite suitable for a black comedy, they are hardly suitable for a tragedy which should be more serious.

To cope with both styles, the film neither powerfully argues a social message nor tragically sketches human emotions. In fact, it is so difficult to cover both sides, since this is a noir film which takes vengeance as its central theme. As a result, the main narrative is decisively weakened and produces an obscure ending.

In spite of these weaknesses, fortunately, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" still gives audiences room to think about the concept of vengeance in a variety of ways. Although the film is a surreal black comedy, it reveals vengeance to be a vain pursuit, one that is destructive to the human soul. The problem is that audiences can feel this, not because of the narrative, but because of Geumja.

Geumja's image, which arises from her looks, mind, behavior, and words, is monstrous and grotesque. She becomes a mad lady who crazily and humorously pursues revenge against Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik) for her 13 years of prison life and for her daughter. This is the most enjoyable part of the film, but creates a situation where the narrative is weighed down by the character as well as by the visuals.

Furthermore, in order to enjoy this film, it is important to know and be reminded that "Geumja" is such an unfashionable and unsuitable name for actress Lee. It is sort of ironic that, unlike the original film title "Miss Geumja Who Is Kind", the film is surreal and Mr. Park is not so kind. Perhaps this is the reason why kind Geumja wanted to be seen as an unkind person using her red mascara.

It is notable that there are many cameo roles in the film. Many actors, who appeared in Park's previous films, appear again. It provides momentum for audiences to think of his other films. Only on this point, however, is Park so kind.

[3 Stars out of 5 Stars]

Kim Soung Su is a freelance writer about film and culture who has been studying philosophy and film studies in England.

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