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The third instalment of Park Chan-wook’s ‘vengeance trilogy’, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (AKA Chinjeolhan Geumjassi, or ‘kind-hearted Geum-ja') stars Lee Yeong-ae ( JSA: Joint Security Area) as the eponymous heroine, recently released from prison after serving a thirteen year sentence for the murder of a five-year-old boy. Nicknamed ‘kind-hearted Guem-ja’ as much for her stunning looks at the time of her arrest as for her good deeds towards her fellow inmates, Geum-ja has made many friends on the inside. Chief among these are Kim Yang-hee (Seo Young-ju), a prostitute who is in love with Guem-ja, Woo So-young (Kim Bu-seon), a terminally ill bank robber whom Geum-ja saved by donating a kidney, Oh Su-hee (Ra Mi-ran), an adulteress forced into sexual slavery by a violent, predatory inmate, and Park Yi-jeong (Lee Seung-shin), whose help Geum-ja enlists on the outside.

Upon her release Geum-ja takes a job at a bakery run by Mr. Chang (Oh Dal-su), who fell in love with her amazing pastry skills while teaching classes at her prison. There she also meets his nineteen year old assistant, Geun-shik (Kim Shi-hoo), who takes a very special interest in the attractive new arrival. With her allies in place, Geum-ja puts her vengeful plan into action. Just who is the target? Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy), Geum-ja’s old teacher and the person she feels is responsible for the death of the young boy and her subsequent incarceration. However, matters are complicated by the revelation that Geum-ja’s own daughter, Jenny (Kwon Yea-young), is alive and well and living with adoptive parents in Australia.

There has been much discussion about which version of Lady Vengeance represents the director's true vision. The version presented on this disc - the so-called 'fade to black and white' version - is often touted as the 'director's cut’, but things are not that simple. As Park explains in one of the featurettes, he had been toying with the idea of creating a feature where the colours slowly drained over the course of the film as far back as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (and again for Oldboy), but it never happened. It was partly for this reason that he decided to employ the technique for Lady Vengeance, but he was also driven by the desire to be the be the first person to use the effect (I've no idea if he actually was). He then changed his mind and decided that he didn't want to artificially manipulate the film's wonderful colours because the effect was too contrived, so the idea was abandoned. It would seem that the version of the film on this disc is representative of how it could have looked, rather than how it should look.

Video


The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) shares much in common with the DVD release of the 'fade to black and white' version of the film, which is to say that it starts out looking far more muted than the theatrical version. Even though the first half of the film is presented entirely in colour the image lacks vibrancy, which is particularly obvious during the opening scenes of Lee Geum-ja's release from prison - the red Santa suits worn by the church choir look just a little bit, dare I say it, drab, and skin tones aren't quite right. If you’ve never seen the theatrical version of the film then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find anything to complain about, but if you are familiar with the film from its theatrical run (as I am) you might find it distracting. The muted look also has the unfortunate side-effect of lessening the impact of the gradual transition to black and white, but seeing as every other release of the ‘fade to black and white’ version has looked the same it’s not really fair to penalise Palisades Tartan for something that was clearly out of their hands.

Other aspects of the transfer are relatively pleasing, although not on  par with the best. Detail is leaps and bounds ahead of the DVD and there are no particularly egregious artefacts to contend with, save for perhaps a little bit of edge enhancement. The main movie encode is surprisingly small (under 19GB) and if you look closely at the top and bottom of each screen capture you'll see 'tramlines', which are usually a tell-tale sign that an image has been filtered and then artificially sharpened to some degree. I'm sure this was done in order to accommodate the film and all of the extras on a BD25 disc. It's a real shame it didn't receive a healthier encode, but I understand the reasons for the conservative approach, which were almost certainly financially motivated. In summary, while I don't think it's the best this particular version of the film could look, it's certainly the best it has looked and is generally very pleasing (the aforementioned caveats aside).

Audio


Sonically, Lady Vengeance is my favourite of Park's three vengeance-themed features. This release includes a Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that does a wonderful job of showcasing the subtleties of the mix and the beautifully ornate score. The track is a nuanced affair, with excellent positioning of even the most delicate of effects. For example, perhaps my favourite moment occurs relatively early-on as Geum-ja walks through a train station. The hustle and bustle of the station can be heard all around you, until the sound follows the rush-hour crowd off-screen leaving only the voice of the station announcer in the rears. It’s a great example of how the little things can make a huge difference to the viewing experience. Dialogue also remains perfectly clear throughout, and I can’t say I noticed the sync issues that some people have mentioned. The film's score is a personal favourite of mine and is just as important as the visuals when it comes to setting the tone. I've been exceptionally fond of the film's sound mix ever since I saw it theatrically and this Blu-ray does a wonderful job of bringing it to life. It's perfectly balanced with the other elements and really does sound marvellous. In fact 'marvellous' is an adjective that can be applied to the track as a whole.

Extras


‘The Making of Lady Vengeance’ (10:45 SD) featurette takes us behind-the-scenes as director Park shoots the film. Although no interviews are included we do see candid footage of Lee Young-ae preparing for the role of Geum-ja, Choi Min-sik showing his softer side by clowning around on the set, and many of the supporting cast and crew doing their thing.

The next item on the menu is ‘The Style of Lady Vengeance’, which is itself divided into subsections, including ‘Visualization’ (06:24 SD), ‘Production Design’ (08:17 SD), Costume & Make Up’ (08:05 SD), ‘Art’ (07:02 SD) and ‘CG’ (06:58). Each featurette must be viewed individually, and the first deals with subjects such as the stylistic choices made to differentiate the film from Park’s earlier works, with subsequent featurettes examining the impact of the original intention to transition to black and white, the importance of selecting the right colours and costumes, the creation of practical special effects, and the utilisation of computer-generated visual effects to enhance scenes.

‘The Characters’ presents a few short interviews with stars Lee Young-ae (06:30 SD) and Choi Min-sik (06:40 SD), along with a number of the supporting cast who portrayed Geum-ja’s prison inmates (05:22 SD) and members of the bereaved families (07:38 SD). I was especially interested to hear from Lee Young-ae, mostly for her thoughts on the filmmaking process, but partially because I could look at her all day and never get tired.

‘Lady Vengeance in Venice’ (08:24 SD) is an interesting little featurette that details Park Chan-wook and Lee Young-ae’s trip to the Venice Film Festival, where the film won a number of awards. I preferred this featurette to the rather stilted ‘making of’, largely because we actually get to hear directly from Park Chan-wook and Lee Young-ae, rather than hearing about how great they are from a third-party. There is still a bit of that going on, when various journalists and critics heap praise upon the film, but all-in-all it is quite an informative piece.

The ‘Trailers & TV Spots’ section is pretty self-explanatory, and includes both the original Korean teaser and trailer (both 01:52 SD), along with the UK teaser (00:46 SD) and trailer (01:41 SD). Oddly, the advertised TV spots are not included.

Overall


I’m a big fan of Lady Vengeance, but I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed by this release. I only discovered that the disc was to include the ‘fade to black and white’ version of the film by accident, and no mention of the alternate version is made on the packaging. I don’t know about you, but if I bought a disc thinking that I was going to get one thing only to be confronted by another, I’d be a little bit ticked off. Obviously I’m in a privileged position as a reviewer and I was lucky enough to receive a free review sample, but most people aren’t so fortunate. Apparently this was the only version of the film available to Palisades Tartan, but I still feel that the company could have made a better job of publicising the disc’s content prior to release.

Irrespective of this it's still a nice looking disc that accurately reflects the source material, even if that material isn’t my favourite version of the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio does nothing but help the film’s wonderful score, and although extras are limited they are at least informative. However, I have to wonder of the disc’s ‘HMV exclusive’ status and relatively high price tag could dissuade potential buyers given that it is possible to purchase a region free full colour version from Hong Kong for only a couple of pounds more.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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