Vengeance Trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (aka Boksuneun naui geot) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Palisades Tartan
I'm going to save you. – Ryu
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Written by Lee Jae-sun, Lee Jong-yong, Lee Mu-yeoung and Park Chan-wook
2002, Region 1 (NTSC), 129 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on March 16th, 2010
Song Kang-ho as Dong-jin
Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu
Bae Doona as Yeong-mi
Lim Ji-Eun as Ryu's Sister
Han Bo-bae as Yu-sun
Note: The Vengeance Trilogy is an epic eight-disc box set (or three disc Blu-ray set) of Park Chan-wook's highly acclaimed films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy and Lady Vengeance. Due to the scope of the set, the review of it will be broken down per movie. Please note, however, that at this time these particular releases are not sold separately.
I love revenge flicks. Absolutely adore them. There is something magical about someone who wronged someone else getting their just desserts, usually in a violent manner. One of the best parts about payback films is you find yourself desperately rooting for the hero (or anti-hero, depending), and their reasons are generally sound why they go on their mission to settle the tab. And then there's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a film that plays by the revenge movie rules so closely that it turns into a mindfuck on who to root for.
Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin – J.S.A.: Joint Security Area) has it rough. A deaf mute, Ryu has a sister that is in drastic need of a kidney transplant. Since he does not have the money for the operation and does not have the right blood type to give his own, Ryu makes a deal with some black market doctors: He'll give them a kidney and his savings and they'll find a proper match for his sister. They, of course, renege on the deal and take both his money and his body part. Too make matters worse, soon after the operation he loses his job, leaving him with no income, one less kidney and a dying sister. It doesn't help matters that a kidney becomes available quickly after he goes through this mess, but he now has no money to pay for it. Things are looking dim.
His radically political girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Bae Doona – The Host) comes up with a seemingly safe plan that can quickly get them some much needed money and a little stab at his former boss, as well: Kidnap his ex-employer's daughter and hold her for ransom. After some discussion, Ryu agrees and everything goes as planned...until it doesn't. Now his previous boss, Dong-jin Park (Kang-ho Song – Memories of Murder) is after Ryu and Yeong-mi for a little of his own revenge. Things get really, really ugly at this point.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Park Chan-wook's highly praised Vengeance trilogy, is a test of mental endurance (in the best way possible). Park paints a world filled of bleakness and despair that you want to turn away from, but are compelled to watch regardless. Even something that appears to garnish a laugh at first manages to turn instantly uncomfortable. Like the scene where four young men in the adjacent apartment to Ryu are masturbating furiously to the sounds of what they think is a woman moaning in sexual pleasure, but turns out to be Ryu's sister writhing in pain the next wall over. Not. Cool.
In addition, Park throws a wrench in the revenge genre because there is not a bad guy in the mix. You want everyone to win, but that just can't happen. Ryu is a solid guy. A little misguided, sure, but his heart is in the right place, and he's not intentionally trying to hurt anyone. All he wants to do is save his sister. Dong-jin, on the other hand, has every right to go after Ryu for what happened to his daughter. He, too, is not a hateful person — a distant father, maybe, but not deserving of the situation thrown at him. Even Yeong-mi is likeable, if a bit pushy. But she certainly doesn't deserve what happens to her...or maybe she does. That's the pisser, none of these cats deserve what they get, but at the same time they do, and it's a movie that forces you to contemplate if revenge is ever really worth it. Say this, though; the black market organ dealers earn what's coming to them, and they are arguably the only people in the film that do.
The acting in Sympathy is genuinely wonderful throughout. There is no standout performance, as each character has their own story to tell and each actor is excellent at telling that story. Ha-kyun Shin speaks volumes with only his face as the deaf mute Ryu, Bae Doona's makes Yeong-mi's nervous energy absolutely radiate off the screen and Kang-ho Song makes you feel the pain of the father in anguish.
It goes without saying that Park's direction in Sympathy is rock solid, as well. If his goal is to make you rethink your opinion of revenge while making you feel as uncomfortable as possible, to say he succeeds is an understatement. He puts his rather likeable characters in apparently hopeless situations and makes it impossible for things to be "okay" for them by the end of the movie because everyone has put themselves in a position where they just can't win.
Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and expertly directed, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance did not fare well in its theatrical run in Korea, but found a cult gathering regardless. And deservedly so.
Video and Audio:
Sympathy's 2:35:1 anamorphic presentation is top notch. Colors are natural, blacks are deep and there is no evidence of edge enhancement. There is some slight digital noise on very few occasions when Ryu is wearing a particular shirt, but it's not distracting in the least.
The Korean DTS track is phenomenal for a movie of this type. I've often said that dialogue driven movies don't have a huge need for DTS, but Sympathy shows that, in fact, yes, they can benefit of it. There is a tremendous use of the side rear speakers throughout the movie, and completely adds to the viewing experience.
Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 and English and Spanish (feature only) subtitles are also offered.
- Audio Commentary with Director Park Chan-wook and Actor/Filmmaker Ryoo Seong-wan
- The Process of Mr. Vengeance
- My Boksu Story
- Crew Interviews
- Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-Wook
- Soundtrack & Photos
- Original Behind the Scenes Feature
The features start out solid in the Vengeance box set, and that's not even a sample of what's coming up for OldBoy.
The commentary is frustrating as there are some very interesting tidbits to be found within, but a good chunk of it is Park and Ryoo gushing over scenes, as in, "I really like this scene here." It's worth a listen (or read if you don't know Korean), but the wait between obvious and knowledge gets rather tedious.
"My Boksu Story" is a collection of interviews with the cast running just under 17 minutes. Each actor tells on how they heard of the movie and what it was like working on the film. For the most part, it's fluff-free, and Ha-kyun Shin and Kang-ho Song both tell the same story of an incident on set (which is interesting because of the different points of view).
The "Original Behind the Scenes Feature" consists of two featurettes: "The Process of Mr. Vengeance" and "Crew Interviews". The former is just about 32 minutes long and is my favorite featurette on the disc. It covers a wide gamut in its relatively short running time, from Ha-kyun Shin and Bae Doona going to a school to learn sign language, to some of the special effects used in the film. It is an enjoyable watch from start to finish. The latter, "Crew Interviews" is exactly what you'd expect: interviews with the crew. Clocking in at around 22 minutes, it consists of Chan-wook Park telling of his motivation for the Sympathy and crew discussing some of the color choices used in the film.
"Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-Wook" runs 17 minutes and explores Park Chan-Wook's movies, hosted by UK film critic Jonathan Ross. It starts with Park's first movie, J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, and works its way up to OldBoy. This should not be watched unless you've seen all the films, as there are minor spoilers within.
The "Soundtrack & Photos" featurette is 12 and a half minutes, and is also self explanatory: a photo montage played over some of the film's soundtrack. Normally I'm not one for photo galleries, but I dug the soundtrack, so this was one of the few times I watched a gallery all the way through. I'm glad I did as Park Chan-wook comes in intermittently and talks about his choice in music.
The 10 minute "Storyboards" piece is interesting as they are animated. While I would prefer a split-screen presentation, the way it's handled is much better than static images.
Wrapping it up is a trailer.
Click here or the "2" below for the OldBoy review.
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