Directed by Chan-wook Park, starring Young-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin,
'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' is the final instalment in Korean writer/director Chan-wook Park's trilogy of revenge films. The series started with 2002's 'Sympathy for Mr Vengeance' and continued, famously, with 2004 Cannes Grand Prix-winner and Quentin Tarantino favourite 'Oldboy'. 'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance', which is the first of the films to take a female perspective, also marks the return to the big screen of Korean star Young-ae Lee. The actress, who is famed throughout Asia for her angelic performance as the first female imperial physician in Korean drama 'Dae Jang Geum', has been deified by her fans who have given her the names 'Oxygen Lady' and 'Asia Sweetheart'. What they will think of her performance here as the Lady Vengeance of the title is anyone's guess.
Starting as she is released from prison, having served 13 years for the kidnapping and murder of a little boy, angelic Geum-ja Lee (Lee), is now considered rehabilitated. The good-girl image is, however, just a carefully-plotted act so that that she can exact retribution upon the man responsible for her imprisonment, Mr Baek ('Oldboy' himself, Min-sik Choi). She is less a Madonna and more - especially towards the end of the film - a dark avenging angel. With the help of contacts that she made while being good in prison - their constant refrain being a puzzled "You've changed, Geum-ja" - she sets up a new life and starts to track down Baek, only to uncover a terrible secret.
'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' starts as a rather odd, but still darkly humorous, fairytale. But the tone changes when, in the last third of the film, disturbing footage of intensely distressed children is introduced. Although stylish - especially the extraordinarily beautiful opening credits - it is also an extraordinarily convoluted and overlong thriller. Rife with superfluous cut-aways and flashbacks, needless diversions and unnecessary characters, Chan-wook Park makes it difficult to get involved in the story. That is, until the brutally simple third act, which is surprisingly compelling. But it is not enough.
This female character driven revenge film has some similarities with Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' but Park's vision of vigilantism is irredeemably bleak. 'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' could have been quite something if Park had swapped some of the style for a more substantial plot. Unfortunately, he didn't.