Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance(Tartan Video, 11.22.2005)
Park Chan-Wook's dark, vicious, and curiously humane masterpiece, the first film in what has become his "Revenge Trilogy" (with Oldboy and the upcoming Lady Vengeance rounding it all out) is unlike anything I have ever seen. I was in awe of this thing when I first saw it a couple years ago and with each viewing my admiration grows. Chan-Wook has an ability to capture eccentric characters in oddball, emotionally-straining situations in a very real, dangerous, and darkly humorous manner. He tosses his characters into tragedy and irony with his finger on the blender and he knows where to place the camera as effectively as any filmmaker working today. There is a touch of Kubrick in his pretty, long range shots with his disturbing long lens, his eye for color, and his amphibian-blooded reveals.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance begins with the story of Ryu, a laid-off factory worker. He is deaf and mute and his sister's kidney is failing. If he doesn't get her the money for a transplant soon, she will die (his kidney will not do, as their blood types do not match). One day he sees a shady ad posted in a men's laboratory selling human organs (half off with the rebate). He doesn't have the money for a kidney, but he soon negotiates trading his own kidney for one that's a match for his sister. Naturally, things go wrong. And then they get worse.
Eventually, the film leads us to Park, an affluent business man who soon finds himself in mourning, tracking a killer. I dare not say how these two characters converge, but they do and soon Ryu and Park's worlds are turned upside down before spinning madly and violently out of control. It's best to leave it at that as this is a movie where the journey is the reward.
Tartan's Asia Extreme DVD release looks gorgeous. Fans of the film can toss their Asian import discs out the door and purchase this one. In addition to the picture clarity, we get a first look at Park Chan-Wook's final film (or so we hear) in the Revenge Trilogy, Lady Vengeance. What this basically amounts to is two scenes from the upcoming movie. How does it look? I honestly can't tell. The scenes are out of context and you can't really get a real sense of anything. They should have just stuck the trailer on here instead.
If you thought the director's commentary on Oldboy was just okay, don't let that turn you off. Park Chan-Wook is funny and more interesting this time around. Maybe it's the presence of director Ryu Seung-wan on the track that inspired the extra energy. Anyway, it's one of the better commentaries I've heard this year and I've heard some pretty good ones in the last few months. Then again, I really love this movie.
I've gushed long enough about Park Chan-Wook but this movie wouldn't work as well as it does were it not for the two outstanding lead actors. Kang-ho Song (Joint Security Area) is fantastic as Park. This is a man whose heart is ripped out of him and he is resolved in letting his soul follow the same path. You will root for him but the sympathy for his vengeance will be tested and tested more along the way.
Ha-Kyun Shin has the more complicated role of Ryu. For starters, being a mute, he has no dialogue. Shin's expressive face is up to the task and while his vengeance is the most satisfying, his journey is the most problematic and unforgivable. Both characters are deserving of our understanding because the actors earn it. These are two good men who have become lost in the mire of vengeance and there is an undeniable poetry to their final scene together that you will not soon forget. -- Andre Rivas