And thus, we conclude the "Vengeance Trilogy"... probably because Park Chan-wook has run out of ideas, and has had to resort to jumping the shark and making an installment about a woman exacting vengeance. Seriously though, this isn't your usual vengeance, this is [u]lady[/u] vengeance, which ought to be hardcore, so long as a car is nearby to serve as the revenge weapon. I make my offensive stereotype joke, but this, oddly enough, is something of a black comedy, so I think even Park has to poke fun at the idea of a woman doing something as well as a man, which is, of course, a totally shocking and uncommon outlook in Asia. This might just feel like a black comedy because, at this point, the amount of violence that Park is showcasing is pretty much comical, and it doesn't help that "Oldboy" got kind of cheesily weird at times. If this is a comedy, then it's more like a black-and-white comedy, at least after a while, and depending on which version you watch, because there's some kind of a "Fade-to-White Version" that gradually fades to black-and-white... and exists separately, for whatever reason. Park is just forcibly coming up with new ways to release this film, because, like I said, he is kind of running out of ideas at this point, but still would like some money, which is good, I guess, because I'm apparently beginning to lose ideas about what to discuss in these review article openers. Yeah, this final installment in the "Vengeance Trilogy" is a decent way to go out, but make no mistake, it is more-or-less more of the same, at least with pacing.
If this film is livelier than "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Oldboy", then it barely is, still falling into its share of dry spells through directorial flare, made all the more bland by scripted dragging which, through excess filler and material, leave the film to follow an almost aimless path. Of course, dragging is hardly the most questionable structural attribute of this plot, for the nonlinear structure and juggling of story layers is jumbled to the point of almost being abstractionist, and decidedly to the point of near-tiresome convolution. It's difficult to describe just how uneven this film gets to be with its structure, but it is a little easier to describe the tonal inconsistencies, which aren't as severe as I was fearing upon finding that Park Chan-wook had chosen to incorporate dark comedic elements into his usual gritty formula for the "Vengeance Trilogy", yet are still off-putting when dramatic elements are jarringly undercut by a humor that is in turn undercut by the dramatic elements, or at least certain overtly disturbing imagery and other gruesome happenings. As usual, Park gets carried away with his disturbing tastes, in addition to his tastes in melodramatics, because if nothing else is consistent between the tonal extremes of this film, it's a certain cheese, even within events of questionable probability. When the cheese gets to the fluff, that's when things really go awry, because if the film is the pinnacle of nothing else as an installment in Park's "Vengeance Trilogy", then it is of overstylization, for the flashy visuals and frantic experimentation with storytelling rarely abates, yet near-consistently shakes substance and suppresses resonance. It's ultimately style over substance that truly holds this drama back, though not single-handedly, because there's plenty of structural sloppiness to convoluted the final product as overambitious and misguided, almost to the point of being forgettable. The film is certainly underwhelming, but it's still a ways away from being a misfire, holding your attention with adequate inspiration, especially in, of all things, musical artistry.
Choi Seung-hyun's score for this film is by no means as unique as, say, the score for "Oldboy", but it's still excellent, with haunting modern, Eastern world and, of course, baroque classical artistry - complimented by a prominent usage of Antonio Vivaldi's "Ah ch'infelice sempre" - whose range from bite to subtlety is both beautiful and rather fitting - both ironically and directly - for this colorful, if still rather weighty thriller, like the visual style. Chung Chung-hoon's cinematography is even less unique, yet nonetheless lively, with subtly striking and fitting tastes in coloration and light that are augmented in the perhaps definitive "Fade to White" version, whose gradual descent into a black-and-white palette reflects the drama's gradual descent into dark tone. Really, the film never lets up on style, with Park Chan-wook, as director, delivering on delightful plays on Kim Jae-beom's and Sang-beom's snappy editing, and memorable visuals, in addition to the beautiful musical and cinematography style, so realized that, when controlled, they add to substance, rather than betray it, and yet, when substance receives full attention, it truly thrives, once the thoughtful atmosphere is controlled enough to sell, rather than jar you through shifts and extremes in tone. Through overblown histrionics and some peculiar storytelling styles, Park makes the film more convoluted than it needs to be, but when those subtly complex layers are taken with sophistication and grace, you catch some near-solid glimpses into what could have been. There is indeed a good deal of potential to explore with this film's story concept, and while that's hard to see through an execution so overblown and misguided, there is still plenty of layered intrigue to this dramatic thriller, genuinely done justice by highlights in a script by Park and Jeong Seo-kyeong which keeps things from getting too slow through colorful, if overwrought set pieces, and some more tasteful dramatic and characterization beats which define the heart of this character study. Of course, what really drive the human elements which in turn drive the highlights of this messy thriller is the acting, at least by lovely leading lady Cho Young-wuk, whose grippingly nuanced and often emotionally striking portrayal of a disturbed and guilty woman seeking closure, both through revenge and through coming to terms with her own mistakes, compels about as much as anything in this film. As with its predecessors, this film showcases highlights that I really do wish were a lot more recurrent, yet, at the same time, define what there is to consistently enjoy out of this film, which keeps you going just fine, no matter how much it fumbles a long the way.
In closing, a couple slow spells and many convolutedly uneven spells in story structuring, as well as tonal inconsistencies, histrionics and, of course, near-exhausting overstylization hold the final product back a ways, but excellent scoring and cinematography, highlights in stylish and often thoughtful direction, - in addition to scripting - and solid acting, at least by Cho Young-wuk, are ultimately enough to make "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" a decently engaging, if flimsy conclusion to Park Chan-wook's "Vengeance Trilogy".
2.5/5 - Fair