Female prisoner Geum-ja (Lee), who has acquired an almost angelic reputation, enlists the aid of the cellmates who shes helped during her 13-year sentence to exact her revenge on the man responsible for her incarceration.
Completing the retribution trilogy launched by Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and continued with 2004’s excellent Old Boy, Park Chan-wook’s latest is a grimly sardonic study of humanity’s capacity for cold-blooded brutality. Yet for all the intricacy of the flashbacking structure and the ingenuity of its use of light, colour and shade, you still won’t be distracted from the story’s flawed psychology. Furthermore, Lee Yeong-ae lacks the emotional range to carry us along with a plan of revenge that begins almost as soon as her former teacher (Old Boy’s Choi Min-sik, who exudes malevolence in what only amounts to a cameo) implicates her in the kidnap and murder of a young boy and then gives away her baby for adoption.
The cod-classical score is superb and there’s plenty of mordant wit, particularly during the sequences detailing the crimes of Lee’s accomplices. However, even though Park handles the insinuated violence with sly expertise, the shift into ensemble melodrama for the lacerating finale is too abrupt to convince, and what could have been an audacious and satisfying coup feels more like a duplicitous sleight of hand.
Slick and frequently mesmerising, but ultimately it feels as calculated as the murky, melodramatic denouement.