Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Shi-hoo
Director: Park Chan-wook
Running Time: 115 mins
Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is a South Korean film about a woman, imprisoned for 13 years for a crime she didn’t commit, who sets out to seek revenge on the true perpetrator as soon as she is released.
I was quite disappointed with this film. Knowing director Park Chan-wook’s reputation for mind-boggling and hugely disturbing revenge thrillers, I felt that Sympathy For Lady Vengeance really missed the mark, coming off as a lot more gratuitous than genuinely intense or effective, ultimately making for a far duller watch than I wanted.
Let’s start on the bright side, however, with the fact that the story does at least have some basic intrigue to it. The apparent transformation of our main character from a kind and angelic young woman to a bloodthirsty and cold person set on total revenge does make for some pretty unnerving moments early on in the movie, and at least sets up the intensity that she feels very well.
What’s more is that Park’s visual style is pretty original. On the one hand, it has all the hallmarks of one of his movies, and with dynamic and often hallucinogenic camerawork, it makes the revenge side of the story feel all the more hell-bent, in similar fashion to how Tarantino directed the Kill Bill movies. On the other, it has a really strange and unorthodox colour palette that makes for an either fascinating or simply weird watch, depending on your opinion of the film as a whole.
There are two versions of the film. In one, the bright pastel colours stay strong throughout, whereas the other (the one that I watched), fades from those bright colours to full-on black and white over the duration. Now, although it fades at such a slow pace that it’s not immediately noticeable, there are times when you do notice that the film looks a lot darker than it did originally, and it can take you out of the moment.
As for its effect, it’s good and bad. On the bad side, it is occasionally distracting, and it also didn’t have the same degree of influence on my view of the woman’s pursuit of revenge as I think was intended. On the plus side, it does give the film a more intense, almost graphic novel-style atmosphere, and if you’re more invested in the story, can probably bring a little more dynamism to the film as a whole.
And that’s where my biggest issue with this film comes in. Its visuals are strong, but it’s not all that enthralling to follow. While it’s a revenge thriller just like Oldboy, it definitely doesn’t have the same level of intense and bizarre twists and turns that made that such a memorable film, and occasionally gets bogged down in what feels like a series of repetitive confrontations on a quest to bring down the true killer.
What’s more is that the film really misses a trick by skipping what could have been a fascinating first act. As I said, the apparent change of our main character from kind to cold-hearted during her time in prison is indeed interesting, but we don’t really see it that much, and I felt if there were a lot more time given to that part of the story, I would have been a lot more invested (and shocked) by her brutal quest for revenge over the following two acts.
Overall, I was disappointed by Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. It has some positives, and Park Chan-wook does an interesting job at giving the film a particularly unorthodox visual style, but on the whole, it fails to grab you as the dynamic and intense thriller it wants to be, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.