Little sympathy for ‘Lady vengeance’

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Little sympathy for ‘Lady vengeance’

Maybe it was because a Korean director who had won the Cannes Grand Prix ordered his staff not to utter a word about his new film until it was released.
Or it might have been because actor Choi Min-sik from “Oldboy” would star again in a similar thriller that caused director Park Chan-wook to stay mum. Or was it because Lee Young-ae, a top Korean actress, is making a comeback in a leading female role after four years away from the film industry?
Or maybe it was all of these reasons that the preview screening for “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” on Monday was jam-packed with curious reporters jostling for a better view of Mr. Park and Ms. Lee beaming on stage.
“This movie does not have a shocking reversal as in ‘Oldboy,’ but by the time the movie is two-thirds through, it unfolds like a completely different story,” Mr. Park said after the screening. “That is one reason why I wanted to be secretive over how the story builds up, even when we were promoting the film.”
Following “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Oldboy,” both known as savage revenge flicks, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” is the final movie in Mr. Park’s revenge trilogy.
However, none of the movies are related to each other except for their subject matter ― bloody revenge.
If there is another aspect that links the third movie to his previous ones, it is the actors. There are several cameos in “Lady Vengeance,” giving moments of light heartedness amidst a chilling story.
“Mr. Vengeance,” the first of his revenge films in 2002, was a story about a father seeking revenge upon kidnappers who killed his young daughter. “Oldboy” was about a man who finds himself held prisoner by an unknown vengeance seeker for unknown reasons until the director lets out the sickening secret of why the man is incarcerated.
“Lady Vengeance” is about a woman named Geum-ja (played by Ms. Lee) who plans revenge on a person she says she spent 13 years in prison for. This time, Mr. Choi, the same guy who sought revenge in “Oldboy,” is the bad guy, playing an English teacher with a double personality.
The audience does not know, however, why Geum-ja is in prison, what the bad guy exactly did to make her so angry and why all of her prison inmates end up helping her carry out a homicide in a most horrific way.
These questions are answered slowly through out the movie, one by one, through Geum-ja.
Ms. Lee, who played Geum-ja, performs across a wide age range for her character. She plays a blushing 19-year-old who asks her schoolteacher whether she can live with him because her boyfriend left her after finding out she was pregnant.
At age 20, the same character is charged with kidnapping and murder and spends 13 years in jail. Her inmates call her “angel” because she is always so kind to everyone. (The Korean title of the film is translated as “Ever So Kind Ms. Geum-ja”). But as soon as she is released from prison, she turns into a cold-blooded vengeance seeker.
She feeds her sick friend as she softly whispers, “Have more,” but soon mutters, “So you die faster.” She is feeding her friend food poisoned with detergent.
“Maybe Geum-ja wasn’t so kind, nor was she an angel from the beginning,” said Mr. Park. “Or it could have been the other way around. Such a performance was possible because it was Ms. Lee.”
In the past, Ms. Lee always played rather passive roles, projecting a very feminine image.
It is because of that image that the character works, Mr. Park said. A strong character would have softened the shock, he said.
“I hope I didn’t disappoint my old fans by my new gruesome act,” Ms. Lee said. “But if I made you guys wonder ‘What kind of girl is Geum-ja anyway?,’ I think I’ve succeeded in playing the character.”


by Lee Min-a

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