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Lady Vengeance is one of my favourite films for its beautiful pacing and artistry mixed with a little bit of violence now and then. This film was a Christmas present for me. I saw an extensive review of the film in Neo Magazine about 11 years ago that made me really want to see the film. There was just one problem that made mum consider not buying it for me: I was 14, and the film was classified as an 18. I remember watching the film on YouTube before Christmas and really enjoying it. When I finally got to watch it on the full screen, it was brilliant. It made Christmas in the household a bit more lively.
This film is part of Park Chan Wook's vengeance trilogy. Whilst Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance aren't connected, they share the similar theme of vengeance. Lady Vengeance is less violent and gruesome out of the three, but makes up for it by its compelling characters and cinematography.
Lee Young-ae plays Lee Geum-ja, a former prison inmate who is released from jail early for being an inspirational model for her fellow inmates, who have fallen in love with her for the kindness and compassion she shows towards them. Her reformation is apparently inspired by Christianity.
Guem-Ja spent 13 years in prison for kidnapping and smothering a 5-year-old boy with a pillow. Unintentionally, she becomes a sensation for her young age and beauty, that many people call angelic. The film even mentions that polka dresses became a fashion trend because of Guem-Ja.
We learn that Guem-Ja actually did not kill the boy, and that the true culprit is her former school teacher who took her under his wing. The teacher is Mr. Baek, played by Choi Min-sik, who in my opinion is a truly gifted actor. The film is quick to reveal that the kindness was all an act as a ploy for her fellow inmates to help her extract revenge on the man that stole both 13 years of her life and the chance to live with her daughter.
What are Mr. Baek's motives? He hates small kids, is a sadistic freak, and likes his sex rough. No idea why he's working at a school if he hates kids so much. Mr. Baek's true colours remind me of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. Guem-Ja begins to work at a baker, manages to go to Australia to find her long-lost daughter, and extracts her revenge on Mr. Baek.
The plot twists in this film are remarkable. I like how unpredictable and unsettling it is, but at the same time is also beautiful and highlights a lot of human emotion. The film doesn't directly tell you everything, but it shows, and shows it very well. Guem-Ja's eagerness and hesitence for killing Mr. Baek shows not only hatred and a desire to destroy him, but also shows that a part of her is fond of him. At least that's my theory. In one flashback, we're shown that he takes her in. Mainly to use her for sex, but as Guem-Ja was a young and pregnant school girl at the time, she saw him as the only one to turn to.
It's very easy to root for Guem-Ja. She's clearly an intelligent lady, despite the fact that she made a lot of dreadful mistakes in her youth. She learns the hard way that redemption and revenge do not give you the same thing.
It's a terrific film in all regards. It's heavy on the flashbacks in the first half of the film, but the flashbacks are good and entertaining to watch. The acting, especially with the two main actors is fantastic. The chemistry between Geum-Ja and Jenny is wonderful and this film is full of iconic scenes. All of the characters had a purpose, even the minor ones. The violence and death are tame, but still enjoyable. One scene I really like is the one where the prison bully gets her karma when Guem-Ja applies soap on the floor where she slips, making her bed-bound, then she feeds her food with bleach added to it.
The film does a terrific job in showing emotions. Even if the violence is tame, there's still plenty of blood, sweat, and tears. It's all shown at the right time, which makes the dramatic actions very effective. It's very edgy and sometimes can be very hard to watch. Mr. Baek is a horrible man who's done some horrific things, which makes him perfect as the villain. Makes even the likes of Jimmy Saville and Donald Trump look like saints.
I enjoyed the film from beginning to end and it's clear to see that they put a lot of effort in this film. The ending simply finishes everything off wonderfully and it took me a few times to guess who the narrator was in the end, but I finally got it. The only thing I don't like about the film is where the dog gets shot.
I also like the baroque-inspired score—a lot of it is inspired and adapted versions of Vivaldi. It's a pleasant soundtrack and I love how it adds that beauty to the film. I also like the connections with the characters, like how the young guy that Geum-Ja screwed is teaching her daughter Korean and the symbolism of the white cake.
The film is only available in Korean, but it does include English subtitles. I've seen this film so many times that it's come to the point that I don't need them anymore. I like the special features on this DVD and enjoyed the interviews with the cast and the directors. It's interesting how the director refers to this story as a fairy tale with plenty of nightmares in it. It has the trailers in it as well, which I think were wonderfully made. If I hadn't have watched the film before the trailers, it would have made me want to watch the film.
Another version of this film is out there called the fade to black and white version. This was only available in selected Korean cinemas and special deluxe packages of the film. It's sadly not on my copy, but I did see it on YouTube and I thought it was a really nice effect how the film starts off with vibrant colours and ends in black and white.
Even without the fade to black and white edition, this is still a wonderful film. I couldn't praise it highly enough. I like all the twists and how everything connects together. I love the story and compelling characters.