Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I am a fan of Korean Director Chan-wook Park. His cinematic style appeals to me. The comic book flavor of his films adds an interesting visual dimension to unique scripts. The third of his Vengeance trilogy is Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. I previously reviewed Oldboy which was an exceptional film and the second in the trilogy. Although taken out of order, the films are projects that stand on their own merit. Sympathy For Lady Vengeance appealed to me on many levels, but not quite as much as Oldboy.
Sympathy For Lady Vengeance begins with Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) being released from prison after serving a thirteen and a half year sentence for suffocating a five-year-old boy that she had kidnapped. As the film moves forward from this point, Lee interacts with several different people that she met while she was incarcerated. As we are introduced to each new character on the forward journey, we are whisked back in time to learn the back story of each character (complete with criminal charges and dates of incarceration). It seems that all may not be as it seems, and Lee appears to be out for revenge. Lee appears to have carefully orchestrated everything, even during her time in prison. As her plan comes together it is becomes clear what her plans are. And those plans are not for the faint of heart.
Chan-wook Park collaborated on Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan geumjassi, in Korean) with writer Seo-Gyeong Jeong (who also co-wrote Thirst which I recently reviewed). The story bounces back and forth with the quick comic book like vignettes of new characters as the story develops. With the sub-titles, the pace got dizzying at times. The quick flashbacks keep the pace moving quickly (good) which, with the sub-titles, can be hard to keep up with (bad). I enjoyed the way Park and Jeong constructed the characters and moved the plot along, even with the quick pace. The main character was well developed with semi-flat characters around her…which was another comic book correlation. In totality, the writing was fresh and interesting.
Lee had a difficult job to sell her role as a heartless killer with a good heart. Does she have a heart or not? In fact, that leads to other questions that this script made me ask. Is vengeance redemptive? In Christianity, the two concepts would seem to be at odds. Yet these two concepts seem to find themselves together in this film. Maybe the redemption is a product of the catharsis found in the vengeance. Whatever the case, this film caused me to think, which set it apart. Part of selling that aspect of the film came from a spotless performance from Lee. She was able to embody a multi-layered character with opposing forces at war within her, and bring those forces together seamlessly. Lee was phenomenal. The rest of the cast had limited exposure, but provided a strong foundation for Lee to do her thing.
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