Let’s face it. Hollywood isn’t taking enough chances these days. In the era of film franchises, sequels and remakes, Hollywood has become too predictable, leading to mediocre reviews for most big releases and even worse box office returns. Many film goers have looked to independent and foreign films to challenge them, and for good reason. Foreign films march to the beat of their own drum, use complex themes and imagery to tell their story, and they usually keep you guessing until the very end. The same can be said f…r Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
Sympathy hails from Korea, a country not known for its movie making abilities until Chan Wook Park’s Oldboy showed up on the radar last year. Being that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is part of the “Vengeance Trilogy” that includes Park’s Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, Sympathy is surely going to gain some late momentum as curious fans of Oldboy start digging beneath its surface and find this 2002 film.
Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf/mute factory worker with a sister in desperate need of a kidney transplant. When he turns to the black market organ trade to sell his own kidney, Ryu is scammed — his kidney stolen. To make matters even worse, Ryu is then fired from the factory. Still desperate to help his sister, Ryu and his girlfriend kidnap the daughter of his former boss, Park (Kang-ho Song), intending to use the ransom money to help Ryu’s sister.
I’m guessing you already know things go terribly wrong.
Here we have two men, Ryu and Park, both wronged and seeking revenge. As in many revenge-oriented films, vengeance consumes both men as they spiral down a path that makes them destined to collide. Ryu seeks revenge on the thieves who stole his kidney. Park seeks revenge on Ryu for kidnaping his daughter.
Director Chan Wook Park tells his story through a series of images and set pieces rather then using the fast-edit technique that has recently dominated Hollywood. Park creates some eerie but beautiful imagery that gives the film extra oomph in the storytelling department. The plot, while not overly complex, is made more so by not focusing so much on details, but the grander aspects of situations.
For instance, we don’t see Ryu and his girlfriend kidnap the girl — as would be the case in a standard Hollywood film, complete with gun fights and much kicking and screaming from the victim — instead we simply see her in the next scene with Ryu after she’s been kidnaped. By doing this, Park intentionally keeps the viewer one step behind so that catching up is that much more fun.
Chan Wook Park also alludes to different genres of film, such as noir, spaghetti westerns and Japanese samurai films — all without being too obvious. Whereas some filmmakers tend to go a little too far when referencing another film genre cough*Quentin Tarantino*cough, Park uses these subtle comparisons to good effect, and because of this, Sympathy always feels like its own movie.
Sympathy’s biggest flaw, however, is that it doesn’t really say anything profound about revenge. The only message that we can grab onto is that “good people do bad things” and “there is always someone else out there thirsty for revenge”, as the film’s ending proves.
While we do sympathize with both Ryu and Park — both of them are good people — we never get the feeling that justice has been served. And that may be the message — that even in the worst of circumstances, vengeance isn’t the answer. Either way, neither of these points is given enough thought, and what exists is a melting pot of messages that lessen the impact of the film.
Despite its flaws, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an outstanding film. The parts may be greater than the whole, but you’ll be left with some powerful images burned into your head that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is presented in 2:35.1 anamorphic widescreen. Even though the colors are drab and gray, they perfectly match the feel and tone of the film. There is some slight grain and image washout. While the image is sharp, the picture never really adds up to anything impressive.
Like the disc’s video, the audio track is nothing impressive. The DTS 5.1 Korean track uses ambience well, and that translates to some good moments with the surround speakers, but the film is mostly dialogue driven.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a little less assertive than the DTS track, but then again, the film’s sound effects aren’t aggressive so you won’t be missing anything.
A Korean DD 2.0 track is also included.
- Director Commentary – Chan Wook Park talks openly about different versions of the film (the original title was “The Destroyed Man”) and how he thinks what ended up on screen is better or worse than what was originally planned. Park also admits that the film failed and “couldn’t find an audience”, in large part from the “twist” ending. It’s also fun to hear foreign directors talk about film technique, which Park does regularly.
- First Look at Lady Vengeance – this clip shows various scenes from the final installment in the “Vengeance Trilogy.”
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance Trailer
- Photo Gallery
- Tertan Asia Extreme New Releases – includes trailers for Oldboy, Spider Forest, and H.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance succeeds because it approaches a rather clichéd plot differently, using strong imagery to tell a story instead of a streamlined narrative. While the disc is not packed with extras, there is enough to give curious viewers something to digest without being overwhelmed. If you’re looking to break out of the Hollywood routine, have some Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- First Look at “Lady Vengeance”
- Photo Gallery
- Tartan Asia Extreme New Releases