Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: Chinjeolhan Geumjassi
Alternate Title: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
South Korea, 2005. CJ Entertainment, CJ Capital Investment, Centurion Investment, Ilshin Capital Investments, Korea Capital Investment, Samsung Venture Capital, TSJ Entertainment, Moho Film, TMS Entertainment, TMS Comics, CJ E&M Film Financing & Investment Entertainment & Comics, Stone Comics Entertainment. Screenplay by Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park, based on the comic by Myeong-chan Park. Cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung. Produced by J.J. Harris, Yeong-wook Jo, Beth Kono, Chun-yeong Lee, Tae-hun Lee. Music by Seung-Hyun Choi, Yeong-wook Jo. Production Design by Hwa-seong Jo. Costume Design by Sang-gyeong Jo. Film Editing by Jae-beom Kim, Sang-beom Kim. Toronto International Film Festival 2005.
The third film in Park Chan-wook’s “vengeance” trilogy is a deeply complicated and fascinating story that twists through its characters’ lives with surprises that explode like bombs. The story is cut up into jigsaw puzzle pieces that are assembled at random, focusing on the mysteriously beautiful Yeong-ae Lee, who is sent to prison for 13 years for the kidnapping and murder of a little boy. We learn early on that she did not commit the crime but we learn who did, which might explain why she spent the entirety of her prison sentence behaving like a model prisoner, tending to the ailments of her cellmates while dealing with the cruelty of the bully they are stuck living with. Once released, she fearlessly puts on her bright red eyeshadow and sets about getting the bad guy, working by day making beautiful cakes at a bakery while at night seeking the answers for what happened to the most important aspect of her past: she had a baby around the time she went to jail and must go as far as Australia to find her. When she finally catches up with the real criminal for whom she took the fall, she then discovers a much more horrifying truth than she originally knew, and decides to share her revenge with all else whose lives are affected by the news. Despite a jumbly narrative that never travels in a straight line, Park’s film is never confusing if you’re patient enough and allow yourself to enjoy its narrative spine resting on the power of Lee’s performance, she never raises her voice but emits a great deal of authority and charisma. There’s almost an overemphasis on aesthetic beauty happening here, though, as if Park doesn’t want you to notice that his story is sharper and more dynamic than it was in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance but not as emotionally poignant, and at some point the colourful cinematography starts to feel like it is overcompensating for a lack of narrative depth; the Shirley Jackson-esque conclusion involving the moral conundrum of how to properly deal with a killer is creative and daring, but doesn’t have quite the same sense of a high price to pay that it did in the first film.