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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  |     review    |     notes     |      availability     |


Region 3 NTSC
Spectrum DVD
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean subtitles
Various extras

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

• Following the overwhelming success of Joint Security Area, Park received the blank check treatment from his investors in hopes of a subsequent blockbuster. Unsatisfied with similar scripts on revenge Park opted to finish the script he had been authoring preceding JSA. The finished product became the first entry in Park's revenge trilogy, followed by Oldboy, and finally the currently in-production Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

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Korean: 복수는 나의 것
Year: 2002
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Shin Ha-Kyun, Bae Doo-Na
The Skinny: This tragic tale of revenge was met with mixed reactions in South Korea by both critics and audiences alike, who either praised the film as dark stylized art or were left repulsed by its grim nature and unbridled rage. Whatever side you end up aligning yourself with, its highly unlikely the imagery in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance will be gone the morning after.

Adam Laidig:

The great pathos of Frankenstein's monster is that he was once a living, breathing human being who probably never intended to become a monster. Someone else made that decision for him. The catalyst for his birth was death. The same can be said of the characters in Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun) is a deaf mute with a bad Joker-green dye job, who works in a smelting factory to make ends meet. His only passion in life is his elder sister who is suffering from kidney failure. Ryu has the required 10,000 won saved up for the operation, but as the prologue ends we learn time is dwindling and a suitable donor has yet to be located. His sister has already requested to be buried just off the shore of the lake she and her younger brother played on as children.

After being fired for taking too much time off to watch over his sister, Ryu recalls a black market ad he spotted in a public toilet. Following the flyer's instructions, Ryu is put in contact with a junkie and her two necrophile offspring. They offer a fresh kidney for his sister in exchange for one of his own, plus the 10,000 won. When Ryu awakes the next day on the floor of a dilapidated building complex he is naked and bleeding from his bruised incision. His kidney has been removed and his money is gone and so are the three black market profiteers. When he returns home, doctors greet him with the news that a donor has been secured.

In an act of sheer desperation Ryu and his live-in girlfriend Cha Yeong-Mi (Bae Doo-Na), a North Korean sympathizer and distributer of anti-American leaflets, devise a plan to kidnap the pre-teen daughter of his former employer Park Dong-Jin (Song Kang-Ho) in exchange for 10,000 won. Everything is going according to plan until the girl is involved in a fatal accident, causing a gradual narrative shift at around the half way mark, when Park Dong-Jin begins to spin out of control.

Audiences who have up to this point been spoon-fed a steady diet of South Korea's time-travel romances, fish-out-of-water comedies, and tear-jerking dramas ought to steer clear of director Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. There is not one single entry in the South Korean New Wave that could have effectively prepared me for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In fact, I struggle to recall a sequence as explicit to the senses as the girl's autopsy or as emotionally draining as her funeral.

These same sequences are, however, what drives the second half of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as our empathy for Ryu's plight diminishes and we begin to sympathize with Park Dong-Jin's acts, no matter how monstrous. This is never truer than a sequence where Dong-Jin is torturing Cheong-Mi with high voltage electricity. At one point, Dong-Jin is taking a break to dine on carryout, and Cheong-Mi (who has lost control of her bladder) pleads with him. She says that his daughter's death was an accident, while delivering an idle threat concerning her status as the head of a terrorist network that will only enact like-minded revenge in the wake of her death. Her captor responds by turning the voltage back on and drifts away in thought while he finishes his meal, ignoring the woman's painful shrieks.

It's debatable whether or not the characters in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are monsters. It's even debatable whether you would consider Song Kang-Ho to be the film's protagonist and Shin Ha-Kyun to be the antagonist. Park structures the narrative from two conflicting angles and then forces the audience to make a choice as an afterthought. Both characters commit monstrous acts, and yet each is a victim of a circumstance that awoke a beast from within that I doubt either knew ever existed. (Adam Laidig 2005)

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen