Thursday, February 4, 2016

#1,998. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Directed By: Chan-wook Park

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin, Doona Bae

Tag line: "Revenge Was Never This Sweet"

Trivia: The script was finished in 20 hours of non-stop work

The first entry in director Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy (which also includes Oldboy and Lady Vengeance), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a dark, brooding masterpiece that breaks down your defenses, scene by scene, right up to the moment it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion. It is an impressive cinematic achievement, and a film you should not approach lightly.

Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf-mute factory worker, is trying to save his sister (Ji-Eun Lim), who is in dire need of a kidney transplant. When the hospital tells him he is not a suitable donor (because he has a different blood type), Ryu tries to obtain a kidney through the black market. But instead of helping Ryu, the underground organization he contacts steals his life’s savings. Shortly after, he’s laid off from his job, and, to make matters worse, the doctors inform him that, by some miracle, they’ve found a kidney for his sister, which Ryu can now no longer afford.

To pay for the operation, Ryu’s girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), suggests that they kidnap the daughter of his former employer, Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), and demand that he fork over a ransom for her safe return. Though hesitant at first, Ryu eventually agrees to the scheme, and together the two abduct the young girl, whose name is Yu-sun (Bo-bae Han). Desperate to get his daughter back, Dong-jin follows their instructions to the letter. But a series of calamities befalls Ryu, causing him to seek his revenge against the black marketeers who ripped him off. Ryu must be very careful, though, because Dong-Jin is looking for him as well!

Part of what makes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance such an effective film is director Chan-wook Park’s simplistic approach to the material, presenting some of the movie’s most intense scenes in a straightforward manner (one particularly disturbing sequence, set at the side of a river, avoids all musical cues and camera tricks, making the terrible event that unfolds all the more poignant). In addition to its matter-of-fact style, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance toys with our emotions on a regular basis, kicking things off in dramatic fashion (Ryu overcoming his disability to care for his dying sister, and doing anything he can to save her) before moving into more tragic territory, culminating in a tale of revenge that pits characters we’ve grown to like against one another (I felt sorry for Ryu, and rooted for him even when he was obviously in the wrong, yet at the same time, I knew Dong-jin also deserved justice, and accepted that Ryu might have to pay the ultimate price for his actions).

There are moments in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance that will move you to tears, and others that will shock and horrify you. It is a heartbreaking, violent, emotionally charged motion picture.

It is also damn near perfect.

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