Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

I won't be surprised to see hordes of housewives watching Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, given the Korean drama penetration into Asian households, especially the wildly popular Jewel In The Palace starring the same lead actress Lee Young-ae. Then again, given the theme on revenge, filled with its fair share of blood and gore, this new movie by Park Chan-wook might appeal to just a select few.

It's easy to draw comparisons with Hollywood's recent revenge movie, Quetin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Both stars hot actresses, both movies focus on the same theme, both have children playing an integral part of the protagonist's motivation, and both were essentially screwed (both sense of the word) by a male baddie. However, Sympathy plays up the stylistic factor, as well as little arthouse nuances in delivering sweet revenge.

Lee Young-ae plays Lee Geum-ja, whom we see leaving prison after serving a sentence of 13 years for kidnap and murder. Or is it? Framed and blackmailed by her collaborators, she bears the brunt of the responsiblity and blame, which sent her packing to jail. Naturally she swears vengeance upon the mastermind of the dastardly deeds, as hell as knoweth no fury like a woman who's really pissed.

Playing up biblical moments in the movie by symbolizing Geum-ja as a devil in angel's clothing (or vice versa, depending on how you want to look at it), the movie intersperses narrative moments with essential flashbacks to her life in prison. On one hand, she's the angel to newcomers who protects them from the bad prison cell mama-san, while on the other, she's the devil who's plotting murder on the sly. She gains respect from these inmates, who play important roles when Geum-ja is released, to exact her 13 year revenge plan. One of the best scenes in demonstrating this was the making of her twin-trigger handgun, translating poetic justice straight from the pages of a sutra.

The final showdown is different from Kill Bill's, without the monotonous monologue, and the imaginary Five Point Exploding Heart Palm technique. Here, it's brutal, it's violent, and somehow, satisfactory. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but only enjoyable when share with a group of like-minded diners, to classical Vivaldi music. The final 20 minutes of the show makes an interesting conversation and analytical piece, so I would not spoil anything here.

While at times the movie does plod along, it depended heavily on Young-ae to shoulder this film through its slower moments. I'm not sure why, but somehow through the many close-ups, I find she has aged quite a lot from her JSA days.

Make no mistake, this film might not be for all to bear. Those who are expecting numerous gunfights and explosions will be disappointed, as Geum-ja does not roar and rampage like what Beatrix did. But when she finally does, in artistic style, all can be forgiven.

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