Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002)

DVD Cover (Tartan Video)
Genres: Action Thriller, Crime Thriller, Thriller
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Chan-wook Park Chan-wook Park
Kang-ho Song Kang-ho Song
Ha-kyun Shin Ha-kyun Shin
Doona Bae Doona Bae
Ji-Eun Lim Ji-Eun Lim
Bo-bae Han Bo-bae Han
Movie Connections:
Chan-Wook Park's Revenge Trilogy
> Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002)
> Oldboy (2003)
> Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005)
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7.9 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: February 09, 2006
This Korean film from Chan-Wook Park, one of the best directors working today, starts out focusing on a poor fellow named Ryu (Ha-Kyun Shin). Ryu is deaf and dumb, but that doesn't stop him from taking care of his ailing sister (Ji-Eun Lim), who is slowly dying and is in dire need of a kidney transplant. Ryu puts in long hours at a factory to save up enough money to get her this transplant, but when he finally comes up with the needed ten million won, he finds out that there's something else in his way... he needs to wait for an organ donor to donate a kidney that shares a blood type with his sister. Instead of watching his sister die before him, he turns to the black market in search of a donor of questionable willingness, and it doesn't take long before he comes across a group that is happy to help... for the sum of ten million won, his life savings. He decides to go through with it to save his sister's life, but in the end, he loses his money, his own kidney, and any chance at saving his sister thanks to falling victim to this scam. Ironically enough, a legal donor comes to the hospital just days after these events, and his sister's life can be saved... if he can come up with the ten million won within five days.

After hearing his story, Ryu's anarchist girlfriend Yu-Sun (Bo-Bae Han) comes up with a kidnapping plot to recoup the money. The plan, as she explains, is to kidnap the daughter of Ryu's former boss Park Dong-Jin (Kang-Ho Song). You see, ten million won is nothing to a rich man such as himself, and it'll even stimulate the economy in a small way by having the cash trade hands. Yes, her anarchist ideas are kind of out there, but the plan is set into motion soon afterwards. Everything is going nicely for our heroes... the kidnapping goes off without a hitch, the six-year-old is set to be returned to her father after Ryu has received the cash, and his lucky sister is all set to receive the kidney transplant that will save her life. Indeed, everything is going quite well; that is, however, until the little girl accidentally winds up dead. Her father is none too pleased with this discovery, and this sets a whole lot of vengeance into motion.

Although my description may lead you to believe otherwise, there is no "good guys" and "bad guys" in this movie. Both of the main characters are very sympathetic; on the one hand, we have a guy who is doing whatever it takes to save his sister's life, and on the other hand, we have a guy who has just found out that his daughter has died. As the title suggests, there's definitely some sympathy to be had for both of these fellows, and this aspect of the movie is handled to perfection. There's a couple of other small subplots that spring up which also deal with vengeance, and while I found that these would be best left as surprises for the readers who decide to check this film out, I will say that each of them worked just as nicely as the main storylines did. Make no mistake about it though: the main focus of the movie is the conflict between Park and Ryu, and this worked out far better than mere words could describe.

With all of this vengeance going around, there has to be some damned good gore and violence... right? I'm happy to report that the movie delivers that in spades. Don't get me wrong, there's not a whole lot of it; however, the gorehounds in the audience may very well have to clean their pants during the couple of scenes in which the red stuff flows. The violence found within this movie is absolutely brutal, and just try to hold back the nausea when... well, I won't spoil it, but you'll know what I mean when you see it. This violence, as mentioned, is pretty brutal in its own right, but what makes it so effective is the buildup behind it and the emotional attachment that the audience develops with the characters. Sure, watching someone being tortured to death is pretty gruesome in any movie, but watching a character that has been built up for the last hour being tortured to death is a thousand times more effective. With the exception of one scene, this is how it is in all of these acts of violence... you grow attached to the characters, you think to yourself that surely, this person won't die, and then out of nowhere comes their grisly end.

When I reviewed Chan-Wook Park's other film (Oldboy), one of the things that I enjoyed most about it was the visuals. Below is a quote from that review:

Director Chan-Wook Park has an uncanny eye for setting up shots where the attention is not pulled away from whatever is going on between the main characters, yet you still have time to take in the gorgeous backdrops used as scenery. Various color tones are also used with perfection to set the mood of the scene, and the score does nothing but improve the mood-setting. Even if I couldn't understand a word of this movie and had no idea what was going on, I'd still have watched it just for these visuals and the score.

The musical score isn't very prevalent in this movie, but otherwise, that quote would apply perfectly to this movie as well. Park has an amazing ability to make even the most mundane scene, such as showing our characters walking down the street or showing our hero eating some noodles, into something that is truly memorable thanks to his usage of colors and camera-angles that perfectly compliment the scene at hand. One such scene, which I can't describe as it would be a major spoiler for the movie, revolves around the final scene at the river. The scene is so simple that even if I were to describe it, it wouldn't sound like much of a big deal... however, the execution is what sets it apart, and that execution leads to one of the better scenes in recent memory.

If this review hasn't persuaded you thus far, let me just come right out and say it: get a copy of this movie by whatever means necessary. You will never see a movie like this come out of Hollywood, and even if you're not a fan of subtitled films, this movie will be the one to convert you over. Yes, it's that damned good. 10/10.
Vash #1: Vash - added 10/10/2006, 01:02 PM
saw this one a while back, and i wasnt a huge fan of it. granted i saw it after i saw oldboy, so i was expecting that calibre of filmmaking, but i just wasnt as impressed with this one. i think that might have to do with my subtitles, maybe they were a bit off, because i really had to figure what was going on out for myself because the way it flowed seemed so... not inconsistent, just weird? *shrug* the ending was still cool, nontheless.
Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #2: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 05/26/2007, 12:50 AM
My favorite in the trilogy.
I kick ass for the Lord! #3: I kick ass for the Lord! - added 07/11/2008, 03:22 PM
I appreciated this one much more after watching with the commentary, excellent film.
M√∂rderwolf777 #4: Mörderwolf777 - added 08/26/2009, 09:35 PM
I watched this after my friend told me it was a super violent revenge flick in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave, so I watched it expected gratuitous violence throughout and was dissapointed. its a good film in its own right I just didnt get what I was in the mood for
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