Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a 2005 South Korean film by director Park Chan-wook. Its original Korean title is Chinjeolhan geumjassi, which translated literally means "Kind-Hearted Ms. Geum-Ja". In the UK and North America, the film has been screened under the title Lady Vengeance. The film is the third installment in Park's The Vengeance Trilogy, following Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Oldboy (2003). It stars Lee Young Ae as Lee Geum-ja, a woman released from prison after serving the sentence for a murder she did not commit. The film tells her story of revenge against the real murderer.
The film debuted on July 29, 2005 in South Korea, and competed for the Golden Lion at the 62nd Venice International Film Festival in September 2005. While it failed to win in competition, it did walk away with Cinema of The Future, the Young Lion Award and the Best Innovated Film Award in the non-competition section. The film had its U.S. premiere on September 30, 2005 at the New York Film Festival. It began its limited release in North American theatres on May 5, 2006.
The film begins with a Christian musical procession waiting outside a prison for Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae), a recently-reformed female prisoner, who had been convicted of murdering a young schoolboy, Won-mo. The case, a national sensation because of her young beauty and innocent appearance, earns her a lengthy prison sentence, reduced because of her apparent spiritual transformation in prison, resulting in the nickname of the "Kind-Hearted Geum-Ja." As Lee Geum-ja emerges from prison, she immediately sidesteps the procession, intent on revenge.
Lee Geum-ja is innocent of the murder, confessing to the false crime by order of Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik), the real killer who threatened to murder her newborn daughter if she refused. Inside prison, Geum-ja makes a number of friends with her angelic, maternal demeanor, donating a kidney to one inmate, tenderly caring for others and poisoning the prison bully. Once paroled, Geum-Ja immediately visits the other paroled inmates, calling in favors that include food, shelter and weapons. She also begins work at a local pastry shop, under the tutelage of a chef who previously volunteered at the prison. Further distancing herself from her kind-hearted reputation, she wears red eyeshadow, provocative high-heel pumps and chronically dreams about murdering Mr. Baek.
Geum-ja researches her daughter and discovers that she was adopted by Australian parents. Jenny, now a teenager, does not speak Korean nor does she initially embrace her mother. After persuading her family to allow her to return to Seoul from Sydney, Jenny follows Geum-ja around the city as she plans to kidnap Mr. Baek with help of his wife, another ex-convict. During this Mr. Baek, now a children's teacher at a local preschool, discovers that Geum-ja is released and aware of her plans, attacks his wife and hires thugs to ambush Geum-ja and Jenny. In the ensuing battle, Geum-ja kills both the thugs, while Mr. Baek is knocked unconscious by the drugs slipped into his food by his wife.
Geum-ja, eager yet hesitant to kill the unconscious Mr. Baek, discovers several children's toys decorating his cell phone. Remembering that his modus operandi involved stealing an orange marble from Won-Mo following his murder, Geum-ja realises that they are souvenirs from victims and deduces that that Mr. Baek murdered other children as well. She imprisons him and contacts the detective from the Won-Mo case, and together infiltrate Mr. Baek's apartment and discover snuff tapes of the other children that Mr. Baek murdered. Geum-ja and the detective contact and transport the parents or surviving relatives of the missing children to an abandoned school on the outskirts of Seoul. After showing them the tapes, the group deliberates on Mr. Baek's fate, ultimately deciding to collectively murder him, with the audio of their discussion amplified for Baek to hear. Wearing raincoats and wielding a variety of weapons, they approach Mr. Baek individually and attack him while the last person, an emotionless grandmother, kills Baek with the scissors of her murdered granddaughter. They take a group photo ensuring that none of them can turn in the others without implicating themselves, then bury the corpse outside.
Geum-ja, the investigator, and the parents all converge on Geum-ja's bakery, where they eat a cake and sing a collective birthday song for their deceased children. Geum-ja approaches her apartment with a cake box when she notices Jenny. They embrace before Geum-ja opens the box to reveal a white cake resembling a block of tofu. She instructs her daughter to "live white", as pure as tofu. Jenny tastes the cake and says Geum-ja should live even more purely. As they stare up into the snowy sky, Geum-ja weeps and sobs uncontrollably, burying her face in the cake, while Jenny moves to hug her.
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