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Monday, November 20, 2017

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE -- Movie Review by Porfle

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002) begins Park Chan-wook's celebrated vengeance trilogy with the old story of a "simple plan" that inevitably goes all to hell.

Ha-kyun Shin plays Ryu, a green-haired deaf-mute who toils in a factory while desperately waiting for a donor kidney for his dying sister (Ji-Eun Lim). His attempt to purchase the necessary organ on the black market ends disastrously, as he loses not only all his money but one of his own kidneys as well. Then he gets laid off from his job just as the doctor informs him that a donor kidney, which he can no longer afford, is finally available.

Ryu's domineering girlfriend Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae), a radical political activist with terrorist ties, concocts a scheme to abduct the young daughter of wealthy businessman Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song) and hold her for ransom, with the naive confidence that it will be a "benevolent" kidnapping and result in happy endings for all involved.

Her prediction goes horribly wrong, as does the kidnapping, and she and Ryu find themselves the targets of a vengeful father whose emotional devastation demands a payment in blood. Ryu, meanwhile, attempts to track down the illicit organ merchants and extract some lethal payback of his own. Both find the price of revenge distressingly high.

"I wanted to make something that felt too real," director Park Chan-wook explains. "I wanted the audience to be tired when they finished the film." As opposed to the later OLDBOY'S flamboyant surrealism and absurdity, the bad things that happen during this film are disturbingly matter of fact, with no suspenseful music or editing, often occurring in the background of a shot. We're allowed to search the frame for information ourselves rather than have everything pointed out to us, which can be strangely unsettling.

"As a director, I think this unkind way of presenting the story makes the viewer a more active participant in the film," says Park. Lengthy wide-angle shots often place the characters far from the camera, punctuated by unexpected images from odd angles which tease us with brief snippets of information.

One of the most important death scenes in the film occurs almost peripherally within the frame as the static camera lingers over a placid rural setting. Without the usual editing and camera angles leading the viewer through the scene, we're left to watch helplessly as the tragedy unfolds with dreadful inevitability.

Still, Park occasionally gets up close and personal, as in a brutal torture-by-electricity scene or a shocking knife murder of a man by a group of terrorists. Here, in a subtle bit of absurdity that's almost funny, the camera impassively observes the dying man as he strains to read the death warrant pinned to his own chest by a knife.

Even in a sequence which in any other film might play out as a brisk action setpiece, such as Ryu's bloody final encounter with the organ merchants, Park tweaks our expectations by approaching the familiar scenario with a fresh and pleasingly odd perspective.

"When you set out for revenge, first dig two graves," someone told James Bond way back in 1981's FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Here, Park Chan-wook takes that hoary old proverb and dramatizes it in dispiritingly downbeat and often heartrending new ways, focusing in almost clinical fashion on tragic details that linger in the mind.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this chain reaction of consequences is that there are two sides headed for a deadly collision, and our sympathies extend to both of them. (This is a theme that will carry over into the next film in the series, OLDBOY.)  SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is hardly the kind of revenge flick where Charles Bronson blows away bad guys as we cheer through our popcorn. For these unfortunate characters, vengeance ain't necessarily good for what ails 'em.

Read our full review of Palisade Tartan Asia Extreme's eight-disc DVD set THE VENGEANCE TRILOGY

Read our review of OLDBOY
Read our review of LADY VENGEANCE


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