This is going to be the start of a review for a trilogy. Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy to be more specific. Park has established himself as one of the most creative and innovative film makers to come out of Asia, and has even inspired American film makers and film makers from around the globe in terms of style and story. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance started off this thematic trilogy in 2003, and while it is a good start to the three movies that share common themes, it is a relatively weak entry in his filmography.
Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf-mute who is working in a factory so his sister (Ji-eun Lim) can get a kidney transplant. After getting fired and hearing no good news from the hospital, Ryu takes his life savings and turns to the black market to get a kidney. The sellers don’t make good on their deal and end up stealing his kidney without selling him one for his sister. In order to get the money Ryu’s girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Doona Bae) suggest kidnapping his ex-boss’ daughter (Bo-bae Han) and collecting the ransom money. After tragedy strikes, his ex-boss Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song) wants revenge and will stop at nothing to kill the people responsible for ruining his life.
To start off with, I feel let down by this movie. There are a lot of good things about it that I will get to, but as a whole it is clearly inferior to Park’s other work. First of all, there are a lot of things in the beginning of the movie that are glazed over so fast I wasn’t even aware that I was getting any plot information. Because of that, I would get confused further down the line at what was going on and who was who. It wasn’t until about a third of the way into the movie that I was aware of who everyone was and what exactly their motivations were. This is not exactly a fun way to watch a movie.
The story, itself, of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is pretty awesome. The whole deal with organs, the black market, abductions, and revenge just blend together really well, despite the shortcomings in how the story is told. It’s a grim, dark, and almost depressing story, even though it still shows signs of dark humor that Park is so good at doing. Amidst the violence and suspense, I found myself laughing at certain parts just out of how strange things were. In some cases, right after laughing, I’d find myself cringing or in a state of bewilderment. The violence in this movie can be extreme, but it’s never so graphic or insane that it becomes gratuitous. Still, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not for the feint of heart.
This is also a beautiful movie to look at. Chan-wook Park has an unbelievable eye when it comes to creating beauty amongst ugliness. The surroundings in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are very gray and dreary, completely lacking any set or location that is beautiful. What is beautiful is how Park shows these sets and locations. His blocking and camera techniques are spot on and make every scene interesting. I found myself thinking about how he thought to angle some of the more interesting shots and if I would ever be able to think of something like that.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not Chan-wook Park’s best film. The plot, which is excellent, is not told in the most sensible way and a lot of important points may be missed your first time through. Park said he was going more for theme and style over plot, which shows, but it doesn’t help the movie that much. That being said, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance looks great and fits well in this thematic trilogy. It has memorable scenes, but I still say that it could have been a lot better considering how cool the story is.