Sympathy of Mr Vengeance (2002)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Tagline: What happens when good people do bad things
Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) has had a difficult time lately, he was forced to drop out of art school and take a job at the local factory to look after his sister (Ji-Eun Lim), who needs a kidney transplant. In desperation he turns to black market organ dealers, who leave him naked and without a kidney and 10 million Won down in the middle of nowhere. We also learn that he has just lost his job and the hospital just called to say a new kidney is available, but it will cost 10 million Won for the transplant.
Making things all the more difficult for him is the fact he is a deaf mute and has trouble expressing his feelings. The one person who seems to understand him is his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae), who suggests they kidnap the daughter of his former boss for a ransom. What they didn't count on is that his boss Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song), is a really hard man who deals with people wanting money off him on an almost daily basis. The kidnap seems to go fine with the man's daughter Yu-sun (Bo-bae Han), getting along well with them, but a double tragedy occurs that will change their lives forever and set them down the path to vengeance that can only end badly.
This movie starts of as a very cold and bleak story, then just when you are starting to deal with it, it reaches into you to deliver a crushing blow to your heart. I should have learned my lesson with Ichi The Killer, a movie that had me rolled up into a ball and waiting for it to stop kicking me, but this movie is different in the fact it is so relentlessly sad and you can see no recourse for the characters once they start down a certain path.
The message from this movie is that revenge can only lead to sadness for all involved. Supposedly this movie is part of a 'revenge trilogy', but the movies are really no more related than the Death Wish movies starring Charles Bronson can be called a trilogy.
Although the cover of the DVD suggests otherwise, the main character is Ryu who is played very well by Ha-kyun Shin with fading green hair and who handles a difficult role very well. Kang-ho Song as Park Dong-jin is just as good as a father destroyed by grief, but who then decides to get revenge on the people responsible.
Another thing that makes this movie so strong is that there is almost no music, except for some brief incidental moments. This gives the movie far more impact as you are not dictated to by the music as to what you are meant to feel when certain things happen on screen and it can actually feel much worse.
In regards the violence in this movie, I found it much less extreme than similar scenes in Oldboy, but when it comes it is more of a shock as there are very few characters and you feel more connected to them. The only scene that really disturbed me was the electric shock torture scene as there is a large amount of suffering involved.
The only thing that was a bit annoying about this movie was that some of the on screen text didn't have subtitles. If it is important enough to show in the movie then it must have some significance to the story that I wasn't able to grasp, so it is more a disappointment than anything else.
Although this movie wasn't that popular in South Korea when it premiered, Park Chan-wook said it was his favourite movie has directed when I heard him speak at the 2004 Melbourne International Film Festival. As to the movie's lack of success, he said he likens his movies to his children and "you do all you can for them, but then they go off and marry someone you don't like." I have also learned that he had wanted to make this movie before Joint Security Area, but couldn't get it off the ground and the success of that movie ensured he could make this movie.
I would definitely recommend this movie if you are a fan of Park Chan-wook's movies, but it is not a movie you should take lightly. For the more casual fan of Korean cinema, it would probably be best to watch the director's other movies before this one as you will get more out of it that way.