(A.k.a. SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE; MY LADY VENGEANCE; SHED TEARS FOR LADY VENGEANCE; CHINJEOLHAN GEUMJASSI)
Lee Guem-Ja (Yeong-ae Lee, JOINT SECURITY AREA) leaves prison after serving 13 years for the kidnap and suffocation of a young boy. She's greeted by a preacher at the prison gates, who has laid on a mini-choir in Santa suits to serenade her. The preacher, we are told via flashback, became enraptured by Guem-Ja's angelic looks when he saw a news article about her on his TV years ago. He has been her friend and spiritual confidante ever since.
Back in the present day, however, he's saddened when Guem-Ja rejects his offer of tofu (the eating of which is said to be symbolic of the subject's devotion to a life free from sin). Rather, she knocks the gift from his hand and tells him to "Go screw yourself". Adorning a pair of violet shades as she strolls coolly into the distance, LADY VENGEANCE has arrived!
Guem-Ja turns to a former cellmate (and one-time lover, it would seem) for somewhere to stay. But, as her jailbird friend helps settle her in, she remarks upon Guem-Ja's icy persona. Gone is the kind-hearted soul who donated a kidney to a sick con and stood up to prison bullies, only to be replaced by a near-silent cold figure of steely determination.
Guem-Ja, her friend's voiceover tells us, has been plotting how to use her freedom for the last 13 years. Her first task is to visit the murdered boy's parents at their home and offer an apology. As with all good Asian films, an apology is interpreted as hacking off a body part as sacrifice. In this instance, Guem-Ja severs her finger much to the onlooking parents' horror. Unfortunately, all her act brings her is a spell in hospital that costs her life savings.
Penniless, Guem-Ja takes a job at a local diner. She meets the young, clumsy waiter Geun-Shik (Shi-hoo Kim) who instantly falls for her. His infatuation increases when, after an unplanned reunion with the detective who never believed her confession, Guem-Ja explains she has done time for infanticide - and killed again while serving her sentence.
As Guem-Ja's story unfolds, interspersing flashbacks to prison life and introducing characters by way of freeze-frame with the present day, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Guem-Ja has disturbing, vague memories regarding the circumstances of her arrest ... but who was she protecting - and if she was protecting someone, why?
Naturally, Guem-Ja's ultimate focus is on extracting revenge from the person she's done time for. But reconciliation with her daughter forces her to change her tact.
It's unfair to give any more away - LADY VENGEANCE demands to be seen.
From the beautifully designed opening credits to the bittersweet snow-swept finale, LADY VENGEANCE is a feast for the eyes. It sounds great too, with classical music filling the gaps between explosive gunfire and profane dialogue.
The narrative is satisfyingly non-conventional, characters being introduced after we've met them, and people occasionally turning to face the camera to speak. There are flashbacks aplenty, all of which add to the milieu with humour, horror and gritty realism combining to make Guem-Ja's character a truly formidable yet sympathetic heroine.
There are a few surreal dream moments, akin to director Chan-wook Park's earlier OLDBOY, and clearly the theme is very similar. But this is an altogether different beast to that celebrated effort. It's arguably better too.
While LADY VENGEANCE lacks the excesses of OLDBOY's meatier moments, it is a film that is filled with emotionally engaging performances, a strong sense of religious symbolism and the most glorious cinematography you will ever see in a genre flick. Oh, and the action set-pieces - while not as hyperbolic as OLDBOY's are superbly orchestrated. Fantastic.
It's also proof that Chan-wook Park is at the top of his game. He playfully fucks about with filmic styles and storytelling conventions, knowing that he can rein it all in at any time and keep control. This is a master at the height of his confidence - having fun.
Tartan's disc offers the film uncut in anamorphic 2.35:1 and it looks brilliant - a pristine transfer, as rich and vivid as you could possibly hope for. The audio, which offers options of the original Korean soundtrack in 2.0, 5.1 and 5.1 DTS, is equally superb. Removable English subtitles are also available.
Extras include a 41-minute interview with Park. He addresses questions in Korean, with a translator on hand to offer the English equivalent. It's interesting, amiable stuff.
A theatrical trailer lasts all of 90 seconds, and is too brief to capture the magnificence of this film.
Finally, we get trailers for BATTLE ROYALE 2, ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY and the sublime A BITTERSWEET LIFE.
The film can be accessed via 16 chapters.
The audio/video quality of the film, paired with an excellent director's interview, is reason enough to buy this disc from Tartan. LADY VENGEANCE is, after all, an instant classic. However, gut instinct suggests a 2 disc Special Edition may be lurking in the future ...! There's already one out on R3 (albeit with no subtitles on the extras!).
In summary, this is a fabulous movie - aesthetically perfect and thoroughly engaging to boot. The end may seem like a cop-out to some, but I appreciated it ... and it's a fitting finale to Park's so-called VENGEANCE trilogy.
Brilliant stuff, on a top rate disc. But ... should we save our pennies for the inevitable SE?!
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Tartan UK|
|Region 2 PAL|
|Extras : see main review|