Sympathy For Lady Vengeance DVD Review (Region 3)

Seth Gecko

retired member
<P STYLE='text-align: center'><FONT STYLE='font-size: 18px'><IMG SRC='' ALT='Sympathy For Lady Vengeance DVD cover artwork' ALIGN='RIGHT'>Sympathy For Lady Vengeance</FONT><br>Reviewed January 2006 by <A HREF='search.php?do=process&query=Chris McEneany&showposts=1&forumchoice[]=107&forumchoice[]=197' target='_top'>Chris McEneany</A>.</P><P><B>The Movie : 8</B></P><P>The third, and final, part of South Korean writer/director Park Chan-Wook's exemplary Revenge Cycle arrives with all the elegance of its bloody predecessors &#8211; Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002) and the awesome Old Boy (2003) &#8211; but somehow manages to inject more humour into its equally violent and controversial mix. Considering the subject matter of Sympathy For Lady Vengeance this is no mean feat. Forced into taking the rap for the abduction and murder of a small boy by the real killer, or else he'll kill <i>her</i> daughter, nineteen year old Lee Geum-Ja (a mesmerising Yeong-ae Lee) spends the next thirteen years in prison, plotting revenge upon the deviant Mr. Baek (played by Old Boy, himself, Choi Min-Sik). Strangely enough, the alleged child-killer who shocked the nation becomes a model prisoner, making friends with virtually everybody on the inside. Doing favours for those put upon by the obligatory butch lesbian known as The Witch and, ultimately, honing her homicidal skills on the loathsome freak, as well, she makes many handy contacts for later use on the outside. Upon her release Geum-Ja finds the parents of the little boy she was accused of murdering, and seeks atonement in a quite grisly manner, then tracks down her own daughter, who is now living in Australia in an attempt to find the mother-within that she has buried deep behind a dark and scheming mind. But, all the while, the desire for revenge upon the evil schoolteacher, Mr. Baek, hardens her heart and the violent wheels she has set in motion are soon to spin into intense and traumatic overdrive. Just revel in that incredible double-barrelled handgun that she has manufactured to her own specification. It is an absolute beauty of murderous retro-chic.</p><P> &#8220;Behind that wicked witch's face of yours, I see the presence of an angel.&#8221;</p><P>To reveal a great deal more of the plot would be to rob you of much enjoyment. Just like the first two movies &#8211; all three are related only in the theme of revenge and its awful consequences &#8211; there are a few twists and turns that, whilst nowhere near as soul-shattering as Old Boy's rug-pulling trick (for which I'm still receiving therapy), are neat little developments that play with the conventions of such dark and sinister material. The pivotal act of vengeance and its aftermath, which fills the last third of the movie, is designed to challenge and to provoke. Park refuses to shy away from morality-tugging sentiment by embracing the truest aspect of natural justice with an unflinching eye. It's one of the cleverest and, indeed, most satisfying conclusions that I, at least, could hope for. The law, the world over, doesn't do enough to criminals such as Mr. Baek, who is, sadly, all-too common a breed a monster. But Lady Vengeance hits on the most exquisite form of retribution when she makes the shocking discovery of a crucial marble amongst the trinkets of other murdered children.</p><P> &#8220;So, the kidnapper had kidnapped a kidnapper's kid.&#8221;</p><P>Park's movie looks amazing. Once again, he uses immaculate compositions that make even the most mundane of locations look almost magical. The streets around the apartment block in which Geum-Ja is staying offer up many moments of lush and dextrous visuals. The long alleyway, in particular, he manages to make threatening in some scenes, utterly bewitching in others. A lot of the exteriors affect a frosty, austere feel that is not simply a result of the wintry Seoul conditions. The interiors are often bright and homely, although the actions depicted within them are usually anything but. For example, Mr. Baek's idea of enlivening the news on TV is a deep clue to his silent aggression, and even Geum-Ja's attempts at romance are decidedly odd and perfunctory, to say the least. Nowhere, other than the cosy home of the Australian foster parents for her daughter, appears comfortable, or safe. Undeniably attractive, Yeong-ae Lee can look alarmingly pretty &#8211; strangely enough, these bits tend to be in the prison sequences which is also where a lot of the lighter moments occur &#8211; although, all too often she exhibits the necessary cold, cruel gleam in her eyes and a suitably severe countenance. Park gets a wonderful performance out of her, too. It's a tightrope act to keep the balance right and the titular <i>Sympathy</i> For this Lady Vengeance in order, especially when she practices with her new gun on a poor little dog. That so much of her has been eaten away with grief, fear and rage is never forgotten, her emotional plight perhaps taking up more of the screenplay than her retribution. Only in Asian cinema can long lingering shots of often incongruous images actually come to mean something to the bigger picture. And there are quite a few here, a couple involving nothing more threatening than freshly baked cakes &#8211; and it is to Park's credit that he can take the trappings of an art house style and mingle it with occasional bravura excess to attain a genre that is entirely his own. His attention to ravishing photography is evident throughout and credit must go to Cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun for capturing the essence of such extreme motives within such exquisite framing. An early flight of fancy Geum-Ja imagining herself atop a majestic cliff as she drags a bizarre incarnation of Mr. Baek to the edge &#8211; his head on a dog's body in a cool riff on the 1978 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Beauty hand-in-hand with grotesquery.</p><P> &#8220;This is 802 Han Apartments &#8230; we've had a finger cut off here!&#8221;</p><P>Initially, I was quite surprised by the tone that Park sets up. The first third of the film is slightly disjointed, mingling flashbacks with the present and jumping from the irrelevant to the suddenly very poignant. But, really this just harks back to the tone of Old Boy, whose middle section suffered from the same element of tricksy narrative. The prison sequences are fairly entertaining, with Geum-Ja's hidden agenda proving to be a slow-burn delight. The unsettling moment when she has to re-enact the murder of the little boy for the press and the police &#8211; which of course she never committed &#8211; elicits some mightily odd and disquieting emotions. <i>Does the Korean Judiciary really utilise such tactics, I wonder?</i> And the truly eye-popping hilarity of Geum-Ja's meeting with the foster parents just has to be seen to be believed. I can't think of another filmmaker who could get away with this departure in tone yet still keep his movie right on track. Of course, all this helter-skelter plot weaving is to culminate in one very protracted sequence that, despite some visual punning (think of the weapon-wielding queue lining up to placate the hysterical passenger in Airplane), is wholly and completely devoid of humour. The final act swings the movie back full circle, Park's screenplay zeroing in on the blackest of human desires like a missile of retribution. With very naturalistic performances and some exceptionally harrowing &#8211; though thankfully brief - scenes of Mr. Baek's videotapes of his victims calling out for their parents (God, I have to tell you &#8211; this really hurt. So be prepared), he puts you right at the complicated heart of revenge. Vital and upsetting, he turns the screws with a clinical calculation that gains power from <i>not</i> showing you exactly what you want to see. A lesser talent would have descended to an all-out gorefest. In fact, despite ample opportunity, Sympathy For Lady Violence actually seems to shy away from violence. Oh, don't worry, there is some and it is immensely satisfying, too. But Park knows that his firebrand, radical nature goes deeper than merely portraying shootings and a damn good kicking. I remember so looking forward to Old Boy's claw-hammer rampage down the corridor but, in the end, it was no more shockingly brutal than what is simply implied here in Lady Vengeance. So, at the end of the trilogy, he seems to have jettisoned the knee-jerk craving for archly stylised uber-violence in favour of the deeper, and infinitely more distressing primal core at the heart of such acts.</p><P> &#8220;The police have big sticks. But they don't know how to use them.&#8221;</p><P>So, this is homicidal art house, the plot drawn up and out of its intimate track and elevated to a much broader canvas by clever manipulation of character and audience perception, and captured within a chop-and-change, flashback-fuelled scenario that pulls no punches. The narrative is actually very simple, and told in a slow, measured manner that may not please some of the Trilogy's fans, but gains an operatic grandeur from its dark and nasty stateliness. Park's eye for comedy may be more prevalent than in the previous two entries but that doesn't lessen the impact of its no-holds-barred themes. Emotions are toyed with constantly, the whole story just a twisted metaphor for guilt and sacrifice. Written down in stark black and white, the plot is disturbing and unlikely to appeal to anyone who hasn't already experienced Park's brutally clever films, yet it must be stressed that, once again, the subject matter is dealt with in such a left-field, avant-garde fashion that the unpleasantness is eerily intoxicating. To be honest, I just don't know how he does it. When it comes to children in jeopardy or, as in this case, actual child murder, I would take some pretty solid convincing to entertain the film for even a minute. Though, in Park's reliable hands, the results diffuse all that all <i>justified</i> anger with an agreeable level of catharsis. The scumbags certainly do some despicable damage but you can be assured that they are going to get some very righteous comeuppance by the end. The knife slid in-between our ribs this time out could've been the most painful yet, but the off-hand light-hearted approach keeps it sugar-coated and, although it may waggle about in there, Yeong-ae Lee's hypnotic performance ensures that it doesn't penetrate too deeply.</p><P> &#8220;They should have couples' prisons &#8211; but then that would be paradise &#8230; not jail.&#8221;</p><P>So, although nowhere near as heartbreaking or as enjoyable as Old Boy (still my favourite Korean movie) Sympathy For Lady Vengeance still hits all the right buttons. The theme of getting even reaches a whole new level with collective vengeance being the icy prerogative acting as the movie's backbone. With Park's fabulous filmic tricks in play &#8211; love the scene change that sees the faces from the prior sequence pushed aside as a door opens up literally onto the next and the brilliant use of a hostage as a translator &#8211; he keeps you guessing all the way with an ease of style that is never less than enthralling. A marvellous film from a truly unique talent.</p><P><B>Picture : 6</B></P><P>With an anamorphic 2.35:1 image, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance offers a fairly reasonable presentation of the film. Park's majestic compositions have been effectively retained within a strong and reliable image, the depth of his framing accurate and consistent. Colours are realistic without being too flamboyant &#8211; blood is nice and deep, snow is a crisp white and the bright exteriors have a naturalistic sheen. They don't leap at you though, and can often lack warmth. But there's no problem that I could see with smearing or over-saturation. Skin tones are fairly natural too and clarity in close-ups reveals plenty of detail in faces &#8211; be they the harried visages of the traumatised parents or the dark crags of Mr. Baek. Geum-Ja, however, has skin like porcelain, with only the red-tinged eye-shadow highlighting her face.</p><P>The film suffers from a high level of grain that is, sadly, prevalent throughout. This has the unfortunate effect of lessening the definition of edges and people in the middle to the background areas. This will be more apparent on larger screens, I fear. Otherwise, detail is actually quite good. Check out the detail on the working parts of Geum-Ja's new gun.</p><P>Black levels, whilst okay, are not as deep as they could be &#8211; especially during a confrontation in the alleyway which reduces the atmospherics of the scene slightly. Also, the contrast balance which works very well at some points &#8211; the early mountaintop fantasy sequences and the later scene when Geum-Ja rips open a curtain to spill blinding, intimidating sunlight upon her captive &#8211; does not manage the same feat at others &#8211; her meeting with her daughter in the Australian outback and one or two of the exterior shots of the old deserted school. The snowflakes are quite nicely picked out, though.</p><P>The transfer does carry some edge enhancement but it is nowhere near as bad as some Asian discs that I've seen, and I saw some evidence of compression errors, blocking and motion drag. Overall, the picture was decent, but its positive elements could certainly be overtaken by the negatives the larger the screen it is viewed on.</p><P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='' ALT='Sympathy For Lady Vengeance'></P><P><B>Sound : 7</B></P><P>This Hong Kong release sees Sympathy For Lady Vengeance equipped with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes and, best of all, a rousing DTS-ES track, too. But, although the DD 2.0 offers a robust and subtly dynamic range, the track of choice would have to be the DTS-ES. What about the DD 5.1 track, I hear you ask? Well, forget it folks. Lasting for just an hour before vanishing from the disc altogether, the DD 5.1 appears to have suffered a major, in fact, calamitous encoding error. Not just restricted to my review copy either, it seems that a large proportion of the first Hong Kong pressing of the disc has the same problem, which is an unforgivable mistake, in my opinion. Even today, not everybody has DTS capability and to deny them the chance of a decent surround mix for this popular A-list title (and, from what I heard of the track, it was none too shabby until the point at which it cut off) is a terrible blunder.</p><P>However, this woeful glitch aside, let's press on with what does work. The ES track established a smart and distinct musical presence immediately with the classical score swirling around the set-up with clinical precision. The track is immensely sharp and loud and possesses pristine and realistic steerage right around the room. The rears are often engaged with thumping footsteps and muffled, dislocated voices around the noisy apartment block in which Geum-Ja is staying. In fact, this effect was done so well that it spooked my German Shepherd into searching the house for intruders, and many times I found myself looking over my shoulder in a reflex action to the directional ambience attained. The thunder during the fantasy sequence in Chapter 2 crawls across the ceiling with a natural and ominously deep realism. The occasions when Geum-Ja's awesome handgun goes off sound alarmingly sudden and room-engulfing with nice directionality across the front soundstage.</p><P>But, as is so often the case with Asian DVDs, this delicious sound design is often held in check with many lengthy scenes of dialogue in-between the bombastics. This is somewhat infuriating considering what the DTS-ES mix is capable of delivering, but then again, it would wrong for me to mark down a film just because it doesn't make the use of its sound that <i>I</i>, myself, would have preferred. The fact is that when called upon to deliver the goods, it most certainly does so with aggression and conviction. It's just that it is not called upon to do so very often.</p><P>So, an extremely good DTS-ES track that is sadly underused. Which is obviously a lot better than a DD 5.1 mix that vanishes after an hour. The DD 2.0, with some tweakage of your set-up, can sound quite enveloping, too. But it's certainly so substitute.</p> <P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='' ALT='Sympathy For Lady Vengeance'></P><P><B>Extras : 2</B></P><P>Unfortunately, there isn't much going on in this department. This is the Hong Kong release of Lady Vengeance as opposed to the more comprehensive Korean 2-disc edition which has two versions of the film &#8211; colour <i>and</i> a fade-to-monochrome options &#8211; and a plethora of extra goodies. As such we only get a very sparse Making Of that lasts just over ten minutes but is merely some cameras set up behind the scenes to capture the filming as it takes place. Several scenes are covered with the only things of note being Yeong-ae Lee rehearsing her lines just prior to stepping in front of the cameras, and Chan-wook Park offering her advice between takes. The featurette is subtitled in English, which may be the only bonus that this release has over the Korean edition &#8211; as their versions tend to omit this crucial (for us, anyway) element. There is also a lengthy rehearsal segment featuring Choi Min-Sik's Mr Baek singing to the kids in his class which, after watching the film first, made my skin crawl. So, not very enlightening, I'm afraid.</p><P>Then we get two Theatrical Trailers that produce slightly different takes on the movie, but are both pretty good.</p><P>And that's your lot. Not very special, eh?</p><P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='' ALT='Sympathy For Lady Vengeance'></P><P><B>Trivia</B><br><P>For user information we use Bitrate 1.4 to scan the disk for the video bitrate, which also calculates the average bitrate. Below is a graph illustrating the bitrate of the disk, including the average bitrate reading. This disk averaged at 6.19 Mbps.</p></P><P STYLE='text-align: center'><IMG SRC='' ALT='Sympathy For Lady Vengeance'></P><P><B>Verdict : 7</B></P><P>Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is a splendid movie. Stylish, meticulously crafted and performed, and laced with the dangerous taboo topics of child murder and grotesque revenge. I'm a very emotive person and there are scenes in this that hurt. Park's awesome ability to keep you glued to the screen throughout tales that, when all said and done, are righteously unpleasant and uncomfortable, is commendable. Here, he skirts the more violent aspects with an almost regal skill. Having said that though, I would still have much preferred to witness the full-on gory retribution with clinical clarity. I, for one, totally applaud the theme of natural justice being meted out and it is great to see it re-enacted without a simpering Hollywood-style lapse into morality. Child killers should be torn apart. Period. And Park has the guts to enforce that view without pandering to the do-gooders.</p><P>As the finale of the Revenge Cycle, it lacks the impact I'd expected. But, I suspect that this film is a steady grower and will gain more resonance for me as time goes by. He may have injected a little too much brevity and irreverence during the first half, but overall the film is a tremendous exercise in cinematic verve and hard-hitting, confrontational themes.</p><P>The Hong Kong disc has a fair-to-middling visual transfer, very good sound in the DTS-ES track &#8211; when called upon &#8211; but a dearth of extras. However, unless the special features on the Korean release have English subtitles, this could still be the better option if they get that Dolby Digital error sorted out. Best to wait and see, I think. The film, itself, is very highly recommended and, of course, may yet be better treated on R1 or R2.</p><div ALIGN='CENTER'>Review Disc Supplied and Shipping NOW from <a href="" target=&#8221;_blank> <img src="" Align="absmiddle"></a><br>Please support us by using our review sponsors.</div><TABLE border='0' CELLPADDING='0' CELLSPACING='2' WIDTH='100%'><TR><TD COLSPAN='2'><B>Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005)</B></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Genres</TD><TD><A HREF='' target='_blank'>Comedy</A>, <A HREF='' target='_blank'>Drama</A>, <A HREF='' target='_blank'>Thriller</A></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Director</TD><TD><A HREF=' Park' target='_blank'>Chan-wook Park</A></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Stars</TD><TD><A HREF=' Choi' target='_blank'>Min-sik Choi</A>, <A HREF=' Cordiner' target='_blank'>Anne Cordiner</A>, <A HREF=' Go' target='_blank'>Su-hee Go</A>, <A HREF=' Kang' target='_blank'>Hye-jeong Kang</A>, <A HREF=' Kim' target='_blank'>Bu-seon Kim</A>, <A HREF=' Kim' target='_blank'>Byeong-ok Kim</A>, <A HREF=' Kim' target='_blank'>Shi-hoo Kim</A></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65'><B>Region</B></TD><TD><B>3</B> <FONT>(Korea)</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Supplier</TD><TD><FONT>Panorama Entertainment. Released Tuesday 3rd January 2006</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>SRP</TD><TD><FONT>$20.00</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Discs</TD><TD><FONT>1</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Format</TD><TD><FONT>DVD9</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Time</TD><TD><FONT>115 mins.</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN='TOP' WIDTH='65'>Chapters</TD><TD><FONT>12</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Picture</TD><TD>Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1&nbsp;</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Sound</TD><TD>Korean <IMG SRC='' ALIGN='ABSMIDDLE' border='0' ALT='dts-ES Soundtrack'> 6.1<BR>Korean Dolby Digital 5.1<BR>Korean Dolby Digital 2.0</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Subtitles</TD><TD>English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Case</TD><TD>Amaray in sleeve</TD></TR><TR><TD WIDTH='65' VALIGN='TOP'>Extras</TD><TD>Making Of<BR>2Theatrical Trailers</TD></TR></TABLE><P STYLE='text-align: center'>If you would like to comment on this review, please reply below.</P>


Does anyone know if the picture quality is better on the more expensive Korean 2-disc edition?


there is a fixed version of the hong kong release. you can confirm if u got the fixed version by seeing if ur copy has a sticker printed on it.


Distinguished Member
fantastic film! just finished watching it this evening......i can pretty much go along with what was said in this review.........i havnt seen Mr Vengeance yet, but this is close to being on a par with Oldboy, its different so not quite so easy to compare tho......however Oldboy i felt to be a true masterpiece, whereas this was merely fantastic....heh

if only hollywood or british films could do stuff this good nowadays.....the directors get so much more performance out of the actors, and i dont just mean the lines but the bodylanguage and facial expression.........most western actors might as well be made of wood and have a hand stuffed up their behinds to move them....

not sure which version i have here, i borrowed it from a guy at work, its a R3, 2 disc, Special Edition, subtitles are in Korean and English so i'm guessing its a korean release.....on disc one is the Dolby Digital 5.1 version and on disc 2 is the DTS 5.1 version, its not ES just says DTS 5.1 on the box, altho my amp is set to always make it ES Matrix.......i thought the soundtrack was very good, again slightly less than what Oldboy managed, but still very good.....

picture quality was probably the weakest point for me, i noticed the black level wasnt brilliant, and it was a tad grainy in a few places.....

anyhow, overall i'd give this an 8/10....and i mark harshly so its a very good


Distinguished Member
I too thought this was a fantastic movie. better than Mr Vengeance.
PQ wasn't great, but that aside it had me captivated. I've watched it 3 times now, and it's better on repeated viewings (as most Asian films are cause you miss so much).
Not a patch on Oldboy though, but very highly recommended.
Very good review by the way

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