A twisted, tragic, ultimately touching modern epic of mythic revenge, suffering, and the destructive grudges that harm both victim and victimizer, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Park Chan-Wook's follow up to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy, is an inspired vivisection of family values, love, and the nature of reality -- all wrapped in a bloody skin of excess and elegance! A perverse and poetic tragedy that makes an art out of brutality, a celebration of despondency, and violence a love letter to both the mind and body, this high-kicking, lyrical homage to the Elizabethan revenge tragedy is imbued with explosions of post-modern angst and existential philosophy. Clearly exploitative, the emotion that accompanies the violence, and the seriousness with which the director treats a story that is both sensationalistic and tragic, evokes the purging effects of Greek tragedy; in short, we suffer with characters we can care about even while we marvel at their capacity for inflicting and enduring suffering. Chan-wook Park has created nothing less than a raw portrait of the human condition, including all of its suffering, pain, hatred, and oddly enduring love.
Na´ve and overly trusting Lee Geum-Ja is sent to prison for the abduction/murder of a child. Set up by school teacher Mr. Baek, her accomplice, she accepts her fate, languishing in prison. There she prepares for revenge. Winning the loyalty of her fellow inmates through kindness, she earns the nickname 'kind Ms. Geum-Ja'. She nurses an undying grudge for thirteen years, until she is finally released. Seeking revenge with the assistance of her former prison mates, she embarks upon a journey through hell . . . Lee Geum-ja's character is perhaps one of the finest, most complex femme fatales of cinematic history, easily more believable than the baddies of MS. 45, Kill Bill, or Lady SnowBlood. More importantly, she is a studious albeit natural blend of ice queen and mother figure. It is her character, and both the miseries she suffers and brings others, that cements the various plot lines of this tragedy together.
Equal parts Shakespeare, grand guignol, and character study, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is strengthened by lush photography, moody lighting that emphasizes facial reactions and skin tone, and visually awe-inspiring settings. The atmosphere of violence and self-victimization that results from seeking revenge is equally felt in the friction created by the natural elements of the film. The major selling points here are heartfelt performances and emotionally scathing themes. The energy pours over you as copious as sweat and blood as Mrs. Vengeance gives a refined performance. A seething stew of rage and calculating cruelty, she is the vessel which brings all the elements home. Believable minor characters and complex sub-plots marry sensationalism with refutations of idealism in a story as intelligent and uncompromisingly honest in its depictions of human folly as its predecessors.
Grounded in the naturalistic terror of reality, yet directed with a stylistic verve that laces the everyday with an almost superhuman breadth, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance finds the savage wonder in violence, and the beauty in rage. It's important to note, however, that just as the director wasn't hesitant to expose the underside and self-returning emotional/psychical damage that revenge inflicts upon the self in his pervious Vengeance stories, so too does he make certain not to sugarcoat revenge -- even if deserved -- in this, his most complex entry. Park has clearly known all along the secret to all great storytelling: characterization. Yet perhaps the most daring, challenging, yet ultimately satisfying aspect of Sympathy is its director's continued refusal to preach or sermonize. No one is innocent and everyone gets hurt! This mixture of introspective characterization and non-judgmental yet poignantly felt pain makes this a triumph of filmmaking.
Visual elements of this check disc looked fine. While some fine tuning is required to get rid of scant grain and image softness, for the most part the picture is clear and bold, with vibrant colors and clear detail.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Tartan Asia Extreme|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|