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Monday, October 29, 2007

CHINJEOLHAN GEUMJASSI (2005) - Chan-wook Park

Korea is producing some great films as of late. Films that cover many different genres. Films like Gwoemul (monster movie The Host) and Taegukgi Hwinalrimyeo (Brotherhood, a war film similar to Saving Private Ryan). One of the most famous filmmakers to come out of the Korean film industry in the last few years is Chan-wook Park. His film Oldboy made his name with western audiences, and since then, he has completed his ‘revenge trilogy’ with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and 2005’s Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance focuses on Geum-ja Lee, a woman who has just been released from prison after serving thirteen years. Geum-ja was sent to prison for the murder of a young boy. However, Geum-ja never actually killed the boy. She took the wrap for another man who kidnapped Geum-ja’s daughter, forcing her to take the fall. While in prison, Geum-ja makes plenty of connections, friends she develops by doing them favours, including murder. Once she is freed from prison, Geum-ja calls in these favours in order to help her exact her revenge on the man who forced her to go to prison. She also sets about tracking her daughter down and seeing if she can make amends for their lost years.

I’ll admit, I went into this film with preconceived notions of what it would be like. Having seen Oldboy (but not Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), I thought it was going to be a pretty violent, blood-soaked affair with a protagonist who cared not about consequences, only revenge. It was to my very pleasant surprise that the film proved to be quite deeper than I had first imagined. Instead of being a fast paced violent flick, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is instead quite a slow burner. We’re not immediately told what Geum-ja’s intentions and motives are. Instead, the film employs flashback to show how Guem-ja developed into the devious and determined woman she is when she leaves prison.

The film is excellently paced and directed by Chan-wook Park, and while I found myself thinking things were going to wrap up pretty abruptly as the second half of the film played out, the film takes a bit of a twist, as it enters the last act. In fact, it’s the last act that really elevates the film above what could have very easily been a run of the mill thriller. In this act, a few characters are introduced, and the film becomes somewhat of an ensemble piece with some terrific acting and scripting. The acting throughout is excellent, Yeong-ae Lee plays Geum-ja, manages to create a character who is absolutely sympathetic, but at the same time, has a side to her that is extremely dangerous. Oldboy himself, Min-Sik Choi plays Mr. Baek, the object of Geum-ja’s vengeance, and is brilliantly creepy and loathsome.

Chan-wook Park isn’t interested in showing the kind of violence that he displayed in Oldboy, and instead focuses on the psychology of revenge, and the consequences it has for those who seek it. And it’s in this that the film succeeds. Another great film from Chan-wook Park.


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