Lady Vengeance (2005) is the final film of the Vengeance trilogy directed by Park Chan-wook, which includes worldwide classic Oldboy. A series of films that link together only by their themes of revenge, violence and salvation, the ‘Vengeance trilogy’ is not really a trilogy at all, it was simply dubbed this by critics who noticed the thematic links.
While Lady Vengeance (also known as Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is no patch on Chan-Wook’s Oldboy (2003) it is a brilliant film in its own right. Starring the charismatic and beautiful Yeong-ae Lee as the titular Geum-ja Lee who has recently been released after thirteen years in prison, and Oldboy star Choi Min-sik, Lady Vengeance boasts an all round stellar cast.
The clever editing and one particularly wacky dream scene concerning a dog with a mans’ head make Lady Vengeance a visual masterpiece. There are some subtle yet brilliant match cuts at various points throughout the film and this clever editing style keeps the audience hooked from start to finish. Unfortunately lacking some of the thrills and tension of Oldboy, Lady Vengeance does start to flag every now and then and there are some extensive scenes that could easily have been cut down, however for the most part it is thrilling, and will keep you guessing until the end.
The clever characterisation, particularly with protagonist Geum-ja makes them very realistic, we can get completely absorbed by these characters’ strange stories and the clever use of flashbacks helps to flesh the characters out and build the tension even more. When the twist is revealed, we can’t help but feel sorry for a woman that we’d pegged from the start as a child murderer, and it raises some serious questions about the nature of evil.
Oldboy was difficult to live up to, and I think calling these films a trilogy largely adds to the slight (only very slight though) disappointment that I felt when the credits rolled. Of course, I know better than to compare films to one another, and it’s always best to watch them as separate things altogether but this very direct link to Oldboy tainted my view somewhat. Had they been treated as separate films altogether and not lumped into a ‘trilogy’ by critics who noticed a thematic pattern, then this comparison wouldn’t have happened.
That being said, I did enjoy Lady Vengeance. It’s thrilling, cleverly edited and fresh. The characters are brilliantly written and portrayed fantastically by a great cast. A great example of the brilliance of Korean cinema.