Sympathy for Lady Vengeance review by The Grim Ringler

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Director Park Chan Wook has created, in only two films (hes done three previous to Lady Vengeance) a new standard in the revenge thriller. Weaving tales that are both intricate in their complexity yet delicate in their portrayal of humanity, these films are, in the end, brutal examinations of the awful cost and nature of violence and vengeance which no one can walk from unscathed. Approaching direction like a craftsman, his films create worlds unto themselves where a dark cloud looms over anyone who desires revenge for a misdeed and indeed this cloud spreads and infects every life that the person touches until everything is colored with blood. Probably the least of three entries in his vengeance trilogy, Lady Vengeance is a movie that mirrors its heroine/villain in its beauty and bloodshed.

A beautiful young woman is indicted in the kidnapping and eventual death of a young boy and is sent to prison for her crime. Though her recollection of the details in the case and how the boy died are not exact, she knows too much not to be convicted, despite the misgivings of the detective on the case. In prison she becomes a religious icon, her perceived goodness and vows to Christ reaching the outer world and redeeming her in the eyes of religious zealots. What we learn though is that her public turning to Christ as her savior doesnt run as deep as it might seem as she forges rough alliances with the women she is housed with, creating a bond she will need when she is finally released. Upon her release her believers and followers await her, wanting to see this woman they feel has seen the error of her ways and has given her life to Christ and has repented. They are greeted with a simmering rage she lets slip for a moment but which is meant for another, someone she has been waiting a long many years to have her vengeance on. She was not alone in what happened to the child that was kidnapped and later killed. She took the fall, alone, for someone else, having no choice because of something this co-conspirator has done that sealed her fate. She has suffered alone, those many years in prison, suffered in a hell as much her own making as the making of the state, and its time she shared this hell. Shared this rage. So, her plan having been made and set while she was in prison, she begins putting the pieces in place to capture the person who lead her to imprisonment and the loss of the most precious thing in her life. And as we soon learn, just as she also learns, vengeance is sometimes best when it can be shared.

The director designed this, and indeed all of his films, like a puzzle box. There is no grand twist necessarily that, once learned, makes the film less interesting to see, but instead peppers his films with clues to a deeper meaning and a darker truth that was always there, had we been able to but see it. There are also several levels to this film. On the surface its a revenge film, yes, but beneath that there is a film about the loss of love, and the love of ones life. There is the idea of not just personal vengeance but societal vengeance. And, like the first two in this series, there is the decision the main character (and usually they are not the only one to make this decision, and that is certainly true here) must make as to whether revenge is worth the price of their soul. Symbolism plays an enormous part in this film, but that, like everything the director employs is but another tool to tell his story. And in the end, that is what this is about the story. The story of a woman who wants revenge on the person who made her into a monster.

Its my hope that this will indeed be shown in American theaters, as there are too few thrillers in the States that have this kind of depth and maturity, and, honestly, this love for the crafting of a tale. Even though this is, as I stated earlier, the least of the three vengeance thrillers this director has done, it is still a hell of a tale. Its interesting though because I cant tell you why I dont feel its as good as the first two installments. The acting is superb. The story is wonderfully put together. The mystery is complex and gripping. The pace is handled well. So, what is it? I think its an intangible that I still havent yet found. Something beneath the skin that just didnt work, for me at least. Its a damned good film, but it didnt grip me as say, Old Boy did, or strike a chord and unnerve me as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance did. I will say this, if this, that saying that this is the least of these three films and that, of four films, the worst he has done is pretty good, this is certainly a director to watch for. There is a beauty that permeates this film and not the first two, perhaps being because the two central characters are women. Perhaps.

It will be a wait before we can have this released here in the states but its worth it. while not as haunting as Old Boy, this is still a film that fans of thrillers, and hell, great filmmaking should see. Its shameful that the United States doesnt honor and show more foreign films on our screens but to be honest, if all of them were as good as this one, I might not either. Competition is good, but when they start beating you at your own game its a bit embarrassing.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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