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Sympathy for Lady/Mr. Vengeance – Review April 15, 2009

Posted by Cello in Movie Reviews.

Welcome to a double feature special here at Japan Cinema.  Today we wrap up Chan Park Wook’s Revenge Trilogy. Oldboy, the other film in the trilogy was reviewed last month which can be viewed here. For those keeping track, this trilogy is NOT reviewed in order (#1 – Mr, #2 – Oldboy, #3 Lady), and obviously, they don’t have to be viewed in order.

Sent to prison for 13 years for her part in the kidnapping of a child, 19 year old Lee Geum-Ja discovers that her accomplice Mr. Baek is actually responsible for her incarceration and has betrayed her.  Unlike Oh Dae-su’s torturous, unjust imprisonment in Oldboy, Geum-ja’s time in jail is not only partially justified but also a fruitful time full of social networking for the vengeful woman. By the time Geum-ja is released at the beginning of the film, she already has amassed so many friends and favors from fellow inmates in prison that there is very little actual legwork to do in the matter of extracting her revenge.

It is no secret Oldboy is my favorite movie of all time so I won’t knock any of these films in comparison because that wouldn’t be fair, but this film doesn’t even attempt to make Sympathy for Lady Vengeance its equal in terms of outlandish style and impact. This film is less about revenge for revenge’s sake and more about the possibility of salvation or redemption, and whether after such acts of brutality it can ever truly be attained.

Hate and revenge – the uglier aspects of of human nature – are Parks’ bread and butter so there should be no surprises that when Geum-Ja goes about exacting her revenge. Park delivers the goods in thrilling, comically amoral fashion. In this manner, Park has fashioned a rare revenge melodrama, playing the traditional female emotions of guilt and remorse for breaking up her family off the male-oriented revenge genre film. While the female focus is refreshing, what is not are the clichéd notions of what a woman is fighting for, what draws out the bloodlust in a normal female. The details of the plot are tried, clichéd, and outdated. Otherwise, this is a intelligent, unsettling film, and Park deserves much credit for not simply repeating himself.

Ryu’s a young man who has had a rough life so far. Not only is he deaf and mute, but also his beloved sister lies on her deathbed desperately in need of a kidney transplant. In desperation, Ryu gives every penny he has to a gang of underground organ-dealers. But when they rip him off and a legitimate kidney becomes available at the hospital, Ryu and his political activist girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) are forced to find the money elsewhere. Ryu doesn’t have the cash but he does have an idea – he and his friend decide to kidnap his boss’ daughter and hold her for ransom. Ryu and his pal execute their plan and abduct the girl and it looks like things are going pretty smoothly at first as her old man has no problem whatsoever ponying up the cash to get her back. They release her, but for reasons that shouldn’t be explained here for fear of spoiling the film, she doesn’t wind up back in his possession immediately and because of this, he ends up going on the warpath to track down and take care of the kidnapping duo.

The film turns into a spiral of revenge, leading to an inevitable climax. Along the way Chan Park Wook presents images alternately beautiful and stomach-turning, it’s hard to watch this film and not be impressed by the directors stunning eye. Some scenes have an almost hypnotic calm to them, and Park will sometimes cut away to a long shot while the most graphic violence is happening before switching to a close-up for the gruesome aftermath. In many ways Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an exercise in shock, but it’s not without heart.

It should also be mentioned that because the film moves so slowly at times, the final half hour is all the more intense because when Park hits you over the head with some of the tricks he pulls in this film, you really don’t see it coming and feel it all the more. There are a couple of truly cringe-worthy moments in this film that, if you haven’t seen it before, come right out of left field and sucker punch you when you least expect it – and it’s a great feeling when that happens. Although I have said it before, I will say it once more, nothing touches Oldboy.  However, this film is as disturbing and exhilarating a piece of filmmaking as you’ll see for some time. As far as trilogies are concerned, this ranks up there with Star Wars and the Matrix Trilogy.  Next time you find yourself in a move marathon, watch these 3 films and you will experience the ultimate rollercoaster ride. Recommended.


1. 0daypress - April 15, 2009

Hey nice blog too 🙂 I don’t know so much about Japan Cinema, but this is great info. 🙂

2. hagiblog - April 15, 2009

Two more fine films that I just haven’t sat down to watch yet. Ya know, the more I read your blog, the bigger my stack of movies keeps getting! HAHA!

3. goregirl - June 1, 2009

Watched this last night and I loved it! You are right though, not quite Oldboy, but a very solid piece of cinema. Your sucker punch comment sums it up pretty nicely. Revenge is NOT sweet!

4. Clint - August 28, 2009

I actually think Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is better than Oldboy! 9/10 vs 10/10. Both are 5-star movies that I would put in the top 10 out of the last ~300 or so movies I’ve seen… But SFLV I’d put as the #1 out of the last 200 movies I saw [I only counted that far back before I gave up on finding another one!]

I agree with your review, but I found the justifiable of it all to make it better, as I am very political, but un-lawful, believing in my own specific form of justice — thus it spoke to me on a very personal level, including RE:Redemption.

Oldboy’s justice was just too senseless. It was more of a mystery movie as well. Though both kept me guessing!

Good review. I will have to read the 2nd half after I see Mr. Vengeance; I’ve watched this triology in completely the wrong order (2, 3, 1) 🙂

Clint - September 1, 2009

I meant “justifiably” above 🙂

Just got back from watching Mr. Vengeance. My least favorite of the 3, but I still gave it 4/5 stars.

BTW, they actually kidnap the daughter of a different boss than the one who laid him off, as they thought that would be too obvious.

Cello - September 2, 2009

Isn’t it wicked that you can give a 4/5 to the least favorable movie in a series? I agree to some extent with your opinion, Mr. was the weakest, but I’m a sucker for Oldboy. I’m glad you watched these and came back with feedback, and you start to slower watch more and more asian cinema and let me know your opinions 🙂

5. Clint - September 2, 2009

Yup! 4/5 to the least favorable is still amazing for almost any trilogy! Just watched Battle Royale 1 last night 🙂

6. dr bruce trout - December 15, 2009

shurely shome mishtake no 1 – not japan cinema – korean

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