"Sympathy For Lady Vengeance": Kill Baek By Mathilde Lorit

in 62th Venice International Film Festival

by Mathilde Lorit

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance might have been the most anticipated movie in the Mostra. Since Tarantino has publicly spoken of his admiration for Park Chan-wook — and chosen Old Boy for the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes International Film Festival — the cult surrounding the South Korean director has increased, spreading throughout Europe. There’s no doubt he will gain new fans with a Lady Vengeance who looks ironically similar to “The Bride” in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) has spent 13 years in prison for a murder she has not committed. For 13 years she has planned her revenge, forming alliances with her fellow inmates. Now she’s prepared to kill. We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but we know who: Mister Baek, her former teacher, who took her child away.

The story might look classical except to those who know the complex narrative process which is Park Chan-wook’s trademark. One more time, his editing choices break all the conventions of movie construction, underlining the many faces of his female character: a kind-hearted prisoner or a cold killer? An angel of revenge or a mother seeking redemption? For her second movie with Park Chan-wook, Lee Young-ae gives both a challenging and powerful performance. More known in Korea for her sweet and cheerful characters, she perfectly personifies the duality of Geum-ja, never asking for compassion. At her side, Choi Min-sik confirms there are no limits to this acting, coldly playing a human devil.

Meanwhile, Park Chan-wook proves again his extraordinary sense of aesthetic, using original angles and confronting graceful images with brutal feelings. His obsessions haven’t changed: violence, rage, redemption, self justice, and the idea that we can’t get rid of our wild inner beast, no matter how advanced our society might be. Since Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is the third part of his trilogy, it is constantly connected with his previous work, including several cameo roles: Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun (co stars of Sympathy For Lady Vengeance) and Yoo Ji-tae (Old Boy ‘s persecutor).

The less sensitive viewers will particularly recognize and applaud Park Chan-wook’s use of black humour, beginning with the repetition of a line appearing in Sympathy For Lady Vengeance: “There are good kidnappings and there are bad kidnappings. A good kidnapping is when you take a kid, but return him to his parents when everything is over “. Some might not appreciate the irony of the sentence considering the dreadful sequence in which a group of parents witness their children’s sufferings through a video tape. As in his previous movies, the more horrific a scene is, the more sarcastic the director will be, especially when he deals with class conflict.

We must admit, however, that the new female point of view in his work offers a more tranquil style and shows a more ‘delicate’ and off-screen violence. And for those who could regret the Korean director’s sadistic inclination, the surprisingly satisfying conclusion of the movie should be a relief: revenge as an act of redemption and purification of the soul.