asian horror

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)


Concluding the amazing Vengeance Trilogy, this week we have the exquisite Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.  With a heroine hell-bent on revenge, this one pulls from the previous films in terms of plot, though it stands very well on its own.  Another rich story entrenched in murder and violence, this particular installment goes a bit lighter on the brutality, though it delivers brilliantly on all other fronts.


Sweaty’s Stats



That’s a big no on this one.  There is some mild, prison-style lesbianism but … let’s just say it’s not a pretty sight unless you’ve got a thing for mean, Asian BBWs.


Not as much as the first two films, but there’s some blood towards the end.  Overall the film is fairly mild on this front too.

Scare Factor

Low.  There are some psychologically disturbing elements later in the film, though.




We begin with a woman exiting prison.  Thirteen and a half years, the man outside tells her, and we’re treated to a little expositional flashback, stating that Lee Geum-ja,our eponymous “Lady Vengeance,” was imprisoned for kidnapping and killing a young boy.  Though we aren’t told exactly what her motive was other than she just “wanted to stop his crying,” the story of her past slowly reveals itself between scenes of the present, as she tracks down each of her old cellmates, all now having served their sentences and living as free women.  More flashbacks show Geum-ja as a model prisoner, helping the inmates in every way possible, right down to donating a kidney for one.  Not exactly the type of gal you’d peg as a child-killer, right?

If the previous two installments in this series weren’t already an indication, it becomes evident early in this film that things aren’t exactly as they seem.  One by one, Geum-ja mysteriously recruits the help of her former cellmates for some sort of “plan.”  One asks her if she’s “found him and killed him yet,” and we are clued into the fact that this lady has possibly been wronged in some way.  But how will she find the answers she’s looking for?


Spoiler alert: with vengeance.

Her reasons are revealed soon enough.  Pregnant at nineteen and scared, she agrees to whore herself out to a former teacher (played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik) in exchange for room and board.  The teacher, a sadistic bastard, forces her into a life of servitude … and I don’t mean washing his dishes.


Although to be fair, she still had to wash the dishes.

Geum-ja reveals that it was another kidnapping plot gone wrong (a la, the trilogy’s first installment) that led to the boy’s death.  Though it was the teacher who killed him in a fit of rage, poor kind-hearted Geum-ja, was forced to take the fall when her own daughter was taken as collateral.

Now free of prison and armed with a healthy lust for vengeance, our Lady moves forward with her plot to kill the bastard.  Unlike Oldboy however, she makes a visit to find her lost child first, reluctantly bringing the now teenage (and happily adopted) girl back to Seoul with her for a visit.  Meanwhile, the murderous teacher is on her tail, and once again, we have a little game of cat and mouse going on here.  It doesn’t last long.  Lady fights off his hired goons and gets the drop on him, with a little help from her friends.  They knock him out, tie him up … and that’s where the real fun begins.

Again, like her counterparts in the other two films, things aren’t going to wrap up easy for Geum-ja.  When she learns that the teacher was less a kidnapper and more of a serial child-killer, she enlists the help of the slain children’s parents to join her in seeking revenge.


Sure they don’t have guns, but hatchet violence is at an all-time high.


Final Thoughts

Watching this film I learned some interesting things about the South Korean prison system.  For instance, adultery is actually a crime punishable up to two years.  What’s more, child murderers, cannibals and adulterers all share the same, kitschy, salmon colored room together, though the cannibals reign a little higher in the room dynamic.  That being said, and keeping in line with every women-in-prison movie ever made, this means that the fresh fish get to provide service for uh … another kind of fish.



Proof that “lesbian scene” doesn’t always equal “hot.”

Joking aside, this is another beautifully shot, ingeniously executed film.  While it’s not nearly as violent as the first two – and I will say I was slightly disappointed that the camera seemed to cut away on some of that violence – it is a work of art.  The flashback sequences are interwoven harmoniously with the rest of the story, giving us pieces of Lady Vengeance’s backstory in small, palatable bites.   Even the back and forth editing of certain scenes in the present timeframe (the first meeting with the detective in the bakery, for instance) are cut seamlessly, the story flowing at a quick and snappy pace without ever being too complicated for the viewer to keep pace.

Once again, as with the other films, both the expert cinematography and score cause scenes to swell with emotion and the high intensity makes it very easy to become invested in the characters of this film.  However, while I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Oldboy, the plot does have some nice twists here and there.  Lead actress Lee Young-ae does such a superb job of playing the Lady, it’s almost worth watching for her performance alone.


Just stay on her good side.


Score: 8.5/10, a fitting end to a fantastic trilogy


IMDB for this lady

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