Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is the first in Park Chan-Wook’s trilogy of revenger’s tragedies. It passed under the radar on its initial release, but the global success of Oldboy led to many film fans seeking it out. However, those seeking the extravagant twists and overwhelming mayhem of Oldboy will be in for a surprise when confronted by Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Yes, there are moments of extreme violence, but they are more punctuation marks to the overall story, which lacks the twists and surprises of Oldboy, instead spending far more time on characters and setup of their circumstances. The setup and tone of the film, along with much of its (superb) cinematography are in many ways reminiscent of social realist cinema, although this is lessened by the extreme situations the story moves into.
The plot centres around Ryu, a deaf-mute factory worker. His sister, whom he idolises is seriously ill and requires a kidney transplant. When Ryu is tricked out of his money by organ traffickers he and his girlfriend launch an ill-though out plan to kidnap his former boss’s daughter and use the money to fund his sister’s operation. This triggers a series of tragic events that spiral further and further out of control.
Like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is perhaps most notable for its depiction of violence. And the violence is clearly intended to be shocking “ it doesn’t feature the over the top constant freneticism the second film, it is instead remarkable for of its moments of extreme brutality. These are directed at characters who, in general, we have come to know and in some cases care for “ making the audience consider their response far more than the casual ultraviolence of other films (Oldboy included). However, there are moments where, for me at least, it drifts towards a queasy gratuitousness that I was uncomfortable with. This tends to be when it’s twinned with the blackest of comedy “ which sometimes misses the mark.
However it would be unfair to define the Sympathy for Mr Vengeance entirely by its violence. Beautifully shot, and carefully paced, in general it’s a brutal, bleak and thought-provoking piece depicting a series of characters trying to find their way in an unjust society and in their rage lashing out, often at the wrong people, with grim and tragic consequences. Less startling and viscerally thrilling than Oldboy on first viewing, it stays with you for longer, sitting uncomfortably at the back of your mind.
Lady Vengeance (2005)… Coming Soon