When it comes to vengeance movies, "Kill Bill" is the most immediate and most "pop" representation. Although, before the first chapter of Tarantino's bloodbath (2003), Chan-wook Park had already began his Revenge Trilogy, releasing "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" in 2002. The second part, "Oldboy", was an instant classic, winning the 2004 Great Prize of the Jury in Cannes. Now, "Lady Vengeance" comes to America, ending the trilogy in grand fashion.
This story is about Geum-ja Lee (Lee Young-ae). She went to prison for 13 years for kidnapping and killing a young boy. Without telling anyone the truth, she knew she was innocent. With her awaited freedom, she can put to work her long-term plan of avenging the real criminal, Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi), with a little help from people she met in jail. She gets a job in a bakery of a former volunteer in prison, Mr. Chang, asks Woo So-Young's husband to build her personalized pistol and talks to her case's detective, Choi, (Il-woo Nam) to achieve her dreamed vengeance. Meanwhile, she must find her long-lost daughter in Australia, where she was adopted.
Since Lee spent 13 of her years in a female prison, almost all her acquaintances are women. Many jail companions told her their stories, which are shown with rich details in the movie. These numerous subplots are told in the slow first half of the film, with little impact on the main plot, but, at least, are told with style and sharp black humor. This is the most stylized Vengeance installment, full of colors, surreal effects (which exaggerate only in few scenes) and elegant visual metaphors. For an example, when Geum-ja is described as a "girl whose face is enlightened", director Park literally puts a bright, almost divine light in her expression as she prays at night.
Geum-ja's strong character asked for an even stronger performer, found in Lee Young-ae. From an apparently sweet person in jail to a cold-blooded killer in her revenge path, the beautiful actress plays complex Lady Vengeance with fierce and sensitivity, achieving her climax when she shows a weeping, raging smile. Kim Si-hu is Geun-sik, a young and naïve baker, who achieves a shallow proximity to Lee, and his sweet performance is fundamental in key-scenes. Nam is also great, having a difficult role to play and restraint to keep Detective Choi as little emotional as possible, and Min-sik proves himself as a standard of excellence. In the final third of the movie, 8 new characters appear, almost all gifted to great actors as well.
Director Chan-wook Park is also responsible for many of the movie's assets. His aesthetic vision is wonderful, presenting a beautiful cinematography and some interesting scene compositions. He also imprints an unbelievable amount of pain on the story – helped by the melancholic and sublime score. When Mr. Baek's crimes are unraveled (and shown), the scene is so unbearable that it rivals to the twist in "Oldboy", determining the Revenge Trilogy as a study of how excruciating the bitter truth can be.
"Lady Vengeance" has almost all the assets that represent the Oriental cinema – it only lacks some graphic violence. Even without much blood in its hands, this is a poignant tale of hate, lost innocence, redemption and revenge, and the painful beauty of this work is enough to hypnotize viewers.