Sunday, December 30, 2012
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance follows the story of Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae), an ex-convict wrongly imprisoned for the death of a five-year old boy. She had been a young girl at the time, and the story was a media sensation, so she was imprisoned for 13 years. For her duration, she plotted her revenge on the real murderer. But because she had been a model prisoner, with a kind, giving demeanor, she was released early, and thanks to her good deeds for former prisoners, whether it be donating a kidney or poisoning the prison bully, she had a network of support in order to find the killer. And shedding her innocent appearance, Geum-ja dons red eyeshadow (a stunning color scheme against her pale skin and black hair), pumps, and form-fitting dresses, becoming "Lady Vengeance."
The introduction of Geum-ja's daughter Jenny (Kwon Yea-young), adopted as a baby from an Australian couple after Geum-ja's imprisonment, is also unintentionally funny as a pest to her biological mother, tagging along with her and adjusting to life in Seoul and the Korean language after having grown up in Sydney. There is a particularly wonderful scene in which Geum-ja and Jenny are saying goodbye to one another, while a voiceover translates their words between Korean and English. It was really quite inventive, and a bridge between a mother and daughter's language barrier.
A minor nitpick is while the daughter is supposed to be Australian-raised and cannot speak Korean, a Korean actress was chosen for the role, with accent and fluency in the language, so the casting choice didn't make sense. I suppose it was easier to find a local actress than look for a Korean-Australian child actress, but it still stuck out. But a freeze-frame of Jenny's method of convincing her parents to let her go to Seoul via threat of suicide was hilarious in a sick and bizarre manner.
What was unique about the film was that while Geum-ja finds the killer (Choi Min-sik, the hero of Oldboy), she doesn't handle him the way the viewer would think. After the build-up for her quest for revenge, it at first seems like it's too soon for her to find and capture the killer. But when uncovering a disturbing past about him, she takes advantage of it to exact a more sinister, yet fitting revenge. Part of her revenge plot involves a scene detailing his crimes that most likely will be left out of the upcoming American remake of this film (starring Charlize Theron), or heavily sanitized. However difficult this portion of the film was to watch, I was glad it unfolded that way, and became a deeper film overall than just one woman's quest for vengeance.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a very interesting film, not because it raises any questions about revenge and its consequences, but because it is able to take dark material seriously, yet treat other scenes with a knowing humor that undercuts the brutality. It has a magnificent color scheme, and isn't bound by its horror genre to be gloomy and disturbing. It is available on Netflix, and is definitely worth seeing.