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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (KOREA 2002)

Director : Park Chanwook
Cast : Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin, Du-na Bae, Ji-Eun Lim, Bo-bae Han and Se-dong Kim

This is the story of Ryu, a deaf man, and his sister, who requires a kidney transplant. Ryu’s boss, Park, has just laid him off, and in order to afford the transplant, Ryu and his girlfriend develop a plan to kidnap Park’s daughter. Things go horribly wrong, and the situation spirals rapidly into a cycle of violence and revenge.

by Edward Tang

Park Chanwook is awesome. Not only did he produce the ever popular Oldboy (Excellent movie) but he also put his name on JSA: Joint Security Area, a masterpiece in it’s own right. His third film in the Vengeance Saga (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) picked up the best picture award at the Korean Blue Dragon Awards. Basically, the guy knows how to direct movies that deserve attention and are well worth the price of admission. The same can be said for his first Vengeance-fueled romp in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Okay, so it doesn’t have the BIG surprise at the end or power that Oldboy dishes out but who cares? Sympathy has mucho going for it, including great direction, storytelling and some great performances. I’ve seen three out of the four and I’m currently creaming my pants in anticipation for the third because a guy like this doesn’t come around often when he can make three involving films that basically punch you in the head. And don’t think that you won’t ask for another smack in the face, because this kind of pain is awesome.

Sympathy’s story seems a little toned down from what Oldboy dishes out. This time around we got a young green haired deaf-dumb kid named Ryu who has a dying sister. Like any good brother he wants his sister to live, so he tries everything in his power to make sure that she does. He decides to let them cut out his kidney and give it to her: only problem is that it doesn’t much the blood type. So what does our friend Ryu think next? He goes to some rama-shama (loser) doctor in the middle of nowhere to let them cut out his kidney. Well if you didn’t see this coming, I feel sorry for you: they steal his kidney and leave him to rot. Things are starting to look up later when the doctor tells Ryu that a kidney is ready for his sister if he can put up the 10 million for it. Oh, but poor Ryu had to pay 10 million for the kidney he was going to receive from the Rama-sham assholes but we know where that went. So since he’s now down 10 million and needs some quick cash for the surgery he decides to steal the daughter of his boss. Chances are if you’ve seen a Park Chanwook movie, you might know what happens next. If not, people die and vengeance is sought after! HOY HOY.

To put a spin on things, Ryu’s sister finds out about the whole little thing and kills herself. Then one after one people start to die until we reach the end where it seems that everyone who is everyone died in this movie. Vengeance is a proper word to describe the second half of this movie because that’s when our two main characters seek it. The first half of the film seems to be a little more somber yet likable. Why? Because it seems that the kidnapping of the girl was the only way out for Ryu and his problems. We can agree on everything up until this point. But things get fucked up when his sister finds out that he stole the girl and it hits you like a bag of bricks when Ryu finds her dead in a bathtub. Park Chanwook does this effectively and the tide of the movie shifts as both characters (Park goes after his kidnapped daughter’s captors and Ryu goes after those who stole his kidney) try to take back what was taken from them. We go into hyperactive kill mode now, both characters really don’t give a shit now, as they try to kill everyone who has wronged them.

I’ll try not to spoil the other moments if possible but it’s hard not to because that’s the best part of Park Chanwook’s movies: to understand and think about the stories and if you agree with their motives for death and destruction. But obviously not any director could handle the artwork of this film, from awesome camera shots to brutal violent scenes, you can’t have it any other way if you want to enjoy his films. Yes as mentioned there are a few violent scenes in this film, including somebody getting stabbed in the neck with a knife and slicing the ankles of one of the characters in a harsh way. But as the character is dragged through the river, the blood that pours out of his ankles makes almost an artistic image in the water. I really don’t think this film is entertaining because it really has no feel good emotion whatsoever, you feel sorry for Ryu and Park because both men go through loads of shit and death which seems to follow both of them as they go through this film. It’s some depressing shit, because the “good intentions” get thrown into the well and we end up with loads of dead bodies. Not good in this instance, sad more than anything.

I think that the acting was very much up to snuff as well in this film because everyone that had something prominent to do hit the ball out of the park. Kang-ho Song is a great actor all around, and if you’ve seen some of his acting performances (JSA, Memoirs of Murder) you know what I’m talking about. He plays a lost father who feels lost after his daughter goes missing and his character ultimately feels horrible for his actions but becomes a monster and also becomes a fan of torture. The green haired douche was played by Ha-kyun Shin and he did a good job. I thought the character was dopey but he pulled it off and when he sprouts the tears in the scene where he finds his sister dead, it’s believable. The girlfriend and the sister were played well and you could get with the characters and feel a little bit of their pain. Typical cops and shit aren’t anything to get excited about either but there were a few cool supporting stars. I found those organ bandits a little odd but funny in some weird aspect and that retarded guy seemed to just come out of nowhere and have a spastic attack for no apparent reason.

There were some dull moments in Sympathy for sure but they were mostly made up of the beginning scenes which took a while to get going. I think that the film also had some editing problems because it should have focused more time on Ryu’s sister’s suicide and it seemed to just jet by it. There were more scenes in the movie that felt this way as well. Maybe I wasn’t paying that close attention but how Park found out where Ryu lived and everything seemed to get lost in the swing of things. I think that with Oldboy they got much better with the editing thing because I knew more than I wanted to with that story. The only other thing I can complain about was the ending, whether it was suppose to be clever or whatever, I found it to be stupid. Granted, these points were too small to be noticed but I felt it to be very successful at evoking some damn emotional scenes that just make you “That sucks.”

Hopefully people who see this movie haven’t seen Oldboy first because I’m sure that with a view of that, they’ll have high expectations and throw this one in the water because they were expecting some over the top flick that has the same style. It’s a depressing flick that doesn’t really have any feel good moments, but who cares? It’s a well made flick and has a truly engrossing story….if you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. Pretty basic huh? I’m not doing pony tricks, go see the movie.

Plot : 4/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The scene which Ryu finds out about his sister’s death
- the nasty death of those bastard organ bandits
- Park’s violent tortures and eventual violent death

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

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