Jan 19, 2010

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Let me tell you about why Lady Vengeance is one of the greatest films ever made. I say this over and over again, something magnificent happens when watching East Asian cinema, especially Korean cinema. Even more specifically are the masterpieces of Chan-wook Park. After all, he is responsible for why this cinematic romance started, when I wrote about Thirst. Film makers in East Asian cinema are able to communicate with me through so many other means than the spoken dialogue. That is exactly it: the films are so much more than just a script that’s being read. It is so beautiful, so inspiring. I wish there were other words that are not so trite for maybe then you might side with me and understand what it’s like to watch a film like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I feel that now, certain words are used more often which in turns takes away the sincerity of those particular words. Enough about this though. Let me tell you about why Lady Vengeance is one of the greatest films ever made. The moment the opening credits roll, you enter a place where art is created so rapidly you enter a trance, as if you are in a museum where all these pieces are thrown into one place and in a most excellent way! Maybe it’s the whites and reds splattered with the addictive sounds that got me hooked from the very first second.

Revenge is best served very very very (and yes one more) very slowly. It is best you take your time planning it. Thus there is no better place for someone to plan revenge than from prison. We’re introduced to the kind hearted Lee Geum-ja when we see her coming out of prison. You think “she found the light after living the unbearable life behind bars”. After serving her term, she comes out greeted by a singing group organized by a local preacher who helped Geum-ja find God. He is holding a plate of white tofu so she could get the “white” start she deserves and never sin again. You know what, “why don’t you go screw yourself”.

Geum-ja has other plans than the ones people have for her. Her plans involve inflicting unimaginable pain on someone we are introduced to later on. The way we learn her story is done by shifting scenes from her time in prison, meeting fellow inmates that will help her accomplish her plans, to the present time where she’s finally preparing to fulfill her ultimate goal. This is as much as I will tell you about the plot for I do not wish to spoil the fun of this extraordinary story. One more thing, there will be blood. A lot of blood. That, and horror, action, mystery, heartbreak, romance and a delicious dash of comedy.

The soundtrack is nothing short of stunning. It controls the speed that your heart beats. An entire scene might be empty of action but the music is showing you bullets and car chases in landmine-filled war zones.  One thing that I appreciate in music that happens in Lady Vengeance's soundtrack is the repetition of the same notes in different scenes- it allows those scenes to form a relationship with each other.

In many parts of the film, when the characters are talking to Geum-ja they are positioned in a confession style, addressing the camera directly. It enables you to read the honesty in their faces but at the same time unable to solve the mystery of Geum-ja since you are seeing these scenes in the first person perspective, occupying the same space she is. This perspective is reinforced by the constant repetition of  “you’ve changed” being fired to Geum-ja by people who thought they knew her in the past.

Lady Vengeance is done very beautifully. I sometimes forget how gory it is because at the same time it is incredibly beautiful. It’s the white snow, tofu and cake. It’s the red eye shadow, blood and wallpaper.  It’s the black leather trench coat, table and gun. The green desks, the brown walls and the blue clothes. It all comes together and creates this masterpiece that is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

There’s a film that’s very widely known: The Matrix. In this film people are transformed into a parallel reality by means of a plug in their heads. The moment a thick heavy wire is plugged into someone's head he or she is immediately taken to an alternate reality and able to exist in it. Something similar happens as soon as Lady Vengeance starts- for these two hours I exist in an alternate reality and no other one exists for me.

Unfortunately, there have been talks about possibly making an American remake. That’s extremely disappointing. Now is your chance! Go see it; it’ll do you some good.

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