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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Released: 2002

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 2 hr 9 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Park Chan-Wook

Starring: Song Kang-Ho, Lim Ji-Eun, Bae Du-Na, Shin Ha-Kyun

A young man and his former boss are both out for revenge. The first entry in Park Chan-Wook’s Revenge Trilogy.

The ice-cold sushi of revenge movies.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 8 years ago

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is clearly the work of Park Chan-Wook, one of the most exciting filmmakers behind the Korean New Wave movement. It isn’t as much fun to watch as Oldboy, which follows Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in Park’s Vengeance Trilogy (Lady Vengeance is the final installment). But the same could be said for just about any movie ever made.

Written in less than 20 hours(!), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is about a deaf-mute guy named Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin). Ryu goes to extraordinary lengths to pay for an organ transplant for his sister. First he sells one of his kidneys on the black market. Then he kidnaps a little girl and holds her for ransom. Of course, everything goes horribly (horribly) wrong.

Viewers will gawk at Park’s widescreen compositions – especially the scenes filmed along the Seomjin River. The film never quite reaches the mind-blowing levels of Oldboy, where the hero pummels 12 guys with a hammer while he has a knife stuck in his back. But Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has some genuinely shocking moments. The acts of vengeance (electroshock torture, sliced-open ankles, geysers of blood) have a disquieting sense of inevitability about them; the point is that they have no point. This is quite different from Oldboy, where the mechanics of the manga-inspired plot reveal layer upon layer of secrets.

Just as its characters defy the law, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance sometimes defies logic. (After 20 hours of nonstop writing, I say sleep on it and polish it in the morning.) The little girl’s father (played by Kang-ho Song, the star of Park’s new vampire pic, Thirst) walks into a radio station via a gigantic plot hole. Still, there’s something satisfying about the way Park refuses to soften the blow, either with comic relief or with easy thrills. If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the ice-cold sushi of revenge movies.