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Film: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

"Ma'am, there is no such thing as a 'perfect person'..."
Mr. Baek

The third film of Park Chan Wook's Vengeance Trilogy, released in Korea under the title of 친절한 금자씨; Kind-hearted Geum-ja. This film's plot has parallels to both Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, notably the quest for revenge after more than a decade in confinement and the study of how vengeance can turn simple people into monsters. It is, however, very stylistically different from both installments.

Lee Geum-ja, a 19-year-old girl paying the price of some bad decisions, is blackmailed into falsely confessing to the murder of a child. After 14 years in prison, she emerges a cold, vengeance-driven woman, dropping the kind, gentle facade that had won her the friendship and loyalty of the other female prisoners.

Using her connections formed in prison, Geum-ja sets into motion a plan 14 years in the making. Her goal is to punish Mr. Baek, the real murderer; however, even revenge may not be enough for Geum-ja to find redemption.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero
  • Arbitrary Maximum Range: Geum-ja's gun can only be fired at close range. It's still very effective.
  • The Atoner
    Everyone makes mistakes. But if you committed a sin, you have to make an atonement for that sin. Atonement, do you know what that means? Big Atonement for big sins. Small Atonement for small sins.
    • Geum-ja takes this far enough to seek out the murdered boy's parents and cut her finger off in front of them as an apology.
      • Originally she wanted to cut all of her fingers off, until the parents would forgive her. But it ends soon, as the parents call for a ambulance.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Geum-ja's custom-made handgun is aesthetic and very powerful, but it can only be fired at a very close range.
    • "It has to be pretty. Everything should be pretty."
  • Best Served Cold
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Geum-ja.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Black and Grey Morality: Described almost perfectly with Pay Evil unto Evil. No one has any illusions that what they're doing is good.
  • Book Ends: Upon release from prison, a priest offers Geum-ja a block of tofu to eat, to symbolize "living white" and pure. She refuses it. In the end, Geum-ja offers a cake shaped like a block of tofu to her daughter, pleading for the same. Jenny eats the cake, then offers it to Geum-ja, who tastes it…then starts crying uncontrollably.
  • Broken Bird: Geum-ja, and some of the other female convicts.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The prison priest turns out to be hired by Baek to spy on Geum-ja
  • Depraved Bisexual: The Witch, a prisoner who raped the other inmates and was sent to prison for killing and cannibalizing her husband.
  • The Determinator: Geum-ja.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Geum-ja and her daughter.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Played with in the Fade to Black and White edition of the film, which does exactly that. The heavy primary colours at the start of the film fade away to pastels and eventually to monochrome footage. The choice of shooting locations and clothing also helped sell this aesthetic; for instance, the blue outfits of the prison and Geum-ja's blue coat are later replaced by a black leather jacket; and the final sections of the film are shot in places with much more industrial design.
  • Domestic Abuse: Mr. Baek beats up and sexually abuses his wife, who is an ex-convict.
  • Evil Teacher: Mr. Baek has a job as an English teacher that makes it easier for him to avoid suspicion.
  • Excessive Anti-Heroic Eye Shadow: A running gag, in which people wonder just what possessed Geum-ja to start wearing hot pink, or rather almost blood red, eye shadow.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Geum-Ja and her daughter.
  • False Confession
  • False Friend: Geum-ja murders the witch and even gives away a goddamned kidney just so she can call a few favors later.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Played for Drama; Geum-ja, after failing to prevent Mr. Baek from suffocating a child, tracks down the child's parents and tries to cut off all her fingers for forgiveness. Granted, it's not akin to a white lie, but considering that a)there was absolutely nothing she could have done to stop it; and b) her newborn daughter's life was at risk had she not taken the blame, you'd think she wouldn't blame herself as much.
  • Forgiveness: What Geum-Ja wants, but doubts she can ever earn.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: You don't actually see what happens to Baek, but you see several of the victims' relatives come out of the room covered in blood and very shaken.
  • Hand Cannon: Geum-ja's customized handgun blows a man's hand off.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Arguably the point of the film... and the trilogy.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: What the Witch did to her husband and his mistress
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Invoked through Guem-ja wearing rouge eye-shadow after prison so she doesn't appear kindhearted.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed
  • Mama Bear
  • May-December Romance: Two of them. Both were one-sided in a way.
    • The young guy that works with Geum-Ja is very attracted to her and even asks if he can call her "big sister" (a term of affection that can have different meanings). She shoots him down but later uses him to teach her daughter Korean since she was raised in Australia.
    • Geum-ja herself was infatuated with Mr. Baek when she was a teenager and had an affair with the much older man. She ended up getting pregnant from a different relationship (this time, a classmate) and asked Baek to help her take care of the child, which kicks off the plot. She considered the relationship much more seriously than Baek did.
  • Morality Pet: Geum-ja's daughter Jenny.
  • Narrator All Along: Geum-ja's daughter Jenny, when she grew up. This is revealed in the final line of dialogue: the narrator's voice says, "Farewell…", followed by Jenny's voice saying, "Geum-ja."
  • Nice Girl: In prison, Geum-ja makes a reputation for being kind, helpful and friendly. Even when she poisons the witch to death by putting detergent in her food, gaining her the nickname of "Witch", she's still referred to as "the kind one". Because they aren't mutually exclusive.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Geum-ja's daughter was raised in Australia. Her daughter doesn't say much but when she does speak, it's a North American accent. The actress was Korean-American.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse
  • Out-Gambitted: Baek.
  • Parental Abandonment: Not done on purpose in Geum-Ja's case.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Geum-Ja and the children's families' entire M.O. to Mr. Baek.
  • Prison Rape: This movie is one of the few that depict prison rape among women.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Invoked with the witch. When she murders and eats her husband and his lover, only a brief shot of her eating Mystery Meat is given; the scene where she rapes another inmate, however, is pretty darn graphic. The main reason for this is to undoubtedly justify Geum-ja killing her in a horrible fashion.
  • Red Eyeshadow Take Warning
  • Revenge
  • Shoot the Dog: Geum-ja apparently tests herself to see if she has a killer instinct by shooting her daughter's pet dog. This could elicit a Moral Event Horizon or a What the Hell, Hero? reaction from the audience.
  • Spice Up the Subtitles: When Geum-ja visits the Australian parents who adopted her daughter, her subtitles (in Korean) fill out in English sentence structure order (noun, verb, preposition, article, noun, etc.) instead of Korean sentence structure (noun, article, noun, verb, etc.), showing the Korean audience the unease that Geum-ja is having with the English language. Everyone else's subtitles fill out left-to-right.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: In probably the most dramatic version of this trope ever, Geum-ja's first action after being framed for the murders is to chop off her finger for the boy's parents in apology. When speaking about the incident with her daughter Jenny, Jenny's response is, "Do you want to say sorry to his mother?" She even starts counting fingers behind her back for each time Geum-ja apologizes to her.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else
  • To the Pain: Geum-Ja puts a microphone in the room where she and the parents are discussing how to kill Baek, and a speaker where he's being held.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Baek's mementos are later given to the victims' relatives.
  • Tranquil Fury: Geum-ja.
  • Was It All a Lie?: It turns out Geum-ja even pretended to like a lesbian simply to use her as a resource for revenge.
  • What You Are in the Dark
  • The Yakuza Pinky Finger Thing
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Baek.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Geum-ja kills the witch in a pretty nasty way, and promptly inherits her title. To a much more chilling extent, Baek keeps personal mementos from the children he murders and uses some of them as phone charms.
  • Yubitsume: Geum-ja goes to the parents of the murdered boy, with the intent of getting rid of her fingers until they accept the apology. She manages to only remove one.


Samaritan GirlKorean MoviesSympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Eerie Pale-Skinned BrunetteImageSource/Live-Action FilmsShoot the Dog
StealthFilms of 2005 - 2009 Syriana

alternative title(s): Lady Vengeance; Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
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