Chan-wook Parks‘s Lady Vengeance is the third and last installment of the “Vengeance Trilogy”, which are all linked by theme only not literal sequels. Nearly the entire first half of the film is spent trying to understand the main character and the sequence of events that led her do the things she may or may not have done. So be warned that even revealing most of the synopsis is pretty much a spoiler.
Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) is released from her thirteen and a half year prison sentence for kidnapping and murdering the boy Park Won-mo. She is presented with a plate of tofu upon her release; it is a tradition that symbolizes that she will never sin again. Instead of accepting this she smacks it out of the givers hand. An obvious hint that she will sin again and she wants redemption.
It is revealed later that Geum-ja Lee did not murder Park Won-mo after all, although she did help kidnap the boy, she did not commit the murder. We find this out when she incorrectly gives the color of the boy’s marble he played with. So why would someone lie about being a murderer and get thirteen years in prison for something they did not do? Eventually, we find out that she was blackmailed.
Geum-ja Lee had a baby named Jenny (Yea-young Kwon) when she was seventeen years old. She needed a place to stay so she called her English teacher at the time, Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi). The film alludes that Mr. Baek blackmailed her with Jenny into confessing she was the sole person responsible for the kidnapping and murder. She does not see her daughter again until after her prison sentence.
Everyone that runs into Geum-ja Lee now tells her that they hardly recognize her because she has changed so much. Once a “kind hearted” girl is now a cold woman looking for vengeance. She openly admits that she plans to kill the man who put her in prison and the true murderer of Park Won-mo.
While she was in prison, she had a job of taking care of another inmate who needed to be fed. This inmate was a larger woman who often bullied other inmates into sexual favors and was generally unpleasant to be around. Over the course of three years of feeding her, we find out that Geum-ja Lee was putting bleach in with her food and one day her stomach could not handle it anymore and she died.
All the other inmates were happy she killed the bully and owed her a favor in return when they all get released. Geum-ja Lee redeems that favor as part of a plan to “kidnap” the kidnapper, Mr. Baek. While she is executing her plan to capture him and seek redemption, he is at the same time trying to capture her. So that is where I’ll stop the synopsis and make you watch the film to see how it unfolds. Although, I admit, half the fun of the film watching and figuring out what I have mentioned rather than how it ends.
In typical Chan-wook Park’s style, the scenes jump around a lot instead of following a linear narrative which makes some scenes seem unimportant at the time but later reveals the importance. That being said, this style of editing demands upmost attention to detail which some will not be bothered with. Like the other two films of the trilogy, re-watching Lady Vengeance would be necessary to full appreciate the film.
There are different versions of the film but I watched the one that the color of the scenes slowly fades to black and white by the end of the film. I found it to compliment the overall gloomy emotion that the characters felt with their vengeance very well. I highly recommend you watch this version of the film if you are given the choice. The visual style Chan-wook has is some of the best in cinema.
When comparing Lady Vengeance to the rest of the series I would say it is the weakest of them all. Oldboy completely blew my mind not just for the excellent story or great cinematography but how poetic and symbolic it was throughout. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance had a better overall plot. I found myself empathizing with the main character a lot less in this film than the other two.
That being said, when thinking of Lady Vengeance on it’s own and comparing it just to other people’s work, it would be a stand out. Chan-wook Park is a magnificent director whose films are beautifully-shot, masterfully told and Lady Vengeance is no exception. This one just lacked the big twists and overall character development of some of his other work.