Thursday, October 5, 2006

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (the Korean translation is actually "Vengeance is Mine") is the first installment in director Chan-Wook Park's Revenge Trilogy, a series of films that each takes a different look at the theme of revenge (of which the spectacular OLDBOY is the second film).

Ryu, a young deaf mute, is desperately trying to save enough money to afford a kidney transplant for his older sister. Due to the red tape at the hospital, he turns to a dubious black market organ service where he hands over his life savings, gets his kidney removed, and is left for dead in an abandoned building. After being fired for missing work and at the end of his rope, Ryu and his militant leftist girlfriend decide to kidnap Ryu's former boss's daughter and hold her for ransom.

From here things go from bad to worse for Ryu in a series of episodes that build upon each other in a way that leaves you cringing and laughing at the same time. We've all had those days where things can't seem to get any worse, and then suddenly get much worse. Park throws this all together with a visual style that is part Tarantino, part Spielberg (the crane shot where we watch the kidnappers and the victim playing in the park as it slowly rises to shoe the enormous city is beautiful), and all Park.

There's much more to the film then Ryu's misadventures and gropings for revenge. Park's theme for this installment plays on a revolving door of who's entitled to exact revenge. Perspectives and protagonists shift and change, as we are taken to the viewpoint of another character (his former boss) and see how the search for vengeance is never how we expect it. The ending is the most tragic of the three films - at the end you're left feeling that it was all for nothing; no choices could have prevented the inevitable outcomes.

A great movie with unexpected twists and depths to it, and a perfect beginning to what will follow in the more over-the-top exploits of both OLDBOY and LADY VENGEANCE.

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