Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

So I’ve watched masterful director Chan-wook Park’s vengeance trilogy out of order. Not by design however as a friend recommended ‘Old Boy’ the second of the trilogy which eventual burned a hole into my soul and alerted this lowly film watcher to genius that is Chan-wook Park. ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’ followed, which was visually superior to the phenomenally visual ‘Old Boy’ but not as emotionally powerful. A very good movie regardless, but Park probably won’t create a movie as great as ‘Old Boy’ for the remainder of his career and still go down in history as one of the great film directors of his era. So even though I had‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ available for some time I hesitated in watching it despite the fact I’m fairly certain it’s going to be fine film watching experience, but I also know it’s going to be a difficult, harsh, brutal film watching experience and one has to be in the right frame of mind to watch certain kinds of films on occasion. Sure ‘Schindler’s List’ is a far superior film to say ‘American Pie 2’? But sometimes you just might want to end the day without feeling the need to kill yourself. Finally I get a chance to sit down ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ and it did not disappoint.

As the story goes, Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf-mute, desperate to help his ailing sister (Ji-eun Lim) who has basically sacrificed everything her life to care and educate her younger brother. She needs a kidney transplant and though Ryu is more than happy to give her his, he is not a compatible donor and it’s unlikely that one will be found in time. His choices being limited, he makes a deal with a scurrilous crew of black market organ donors where he gives these cats ten million won (a little more than ten thousand dollars) to take his kidney and in return give him a compatible one for his sister. They take his kidney, his money and leave the man naked, scarred, and pissed off. Add to that his sister’s doctor delivers the great news that they have surprisingly found a donor and surgery can begin immediately... as soon as they get their 10 million won. Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

Ryu’s revolutionary minded girlfriend Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) after she knocks the idiot around for awhile suggest they kidnap a wealthy business owners young daughter. Makes sense since his Benzo cost way more than what the surgery costs and besides, they’ll treat the kid so swell it’ll be like she’s at camp. So they grab Mr. Parks (Khang-ho Sang) five year old daughter, give him specific instructions which the distraught divorced father follows to the tee and now and everything has worked out to perfection. Or not. These are probably SPOILERS, but this is pretty much what the movie hinges on and I bet you’ve seen it anyway. The sister finds out that Ryu has been lying to her and takes her life, Ryu is ridiculously distraught but has to bury his sister. While doing that the little girl jumps out the car and falls in the nearby lake and drowns. Ryu blames his organ stealers for this chain of events and sets out to make them pay. Mr. Park finds his dead baby girl and pretty much sells everything he has with the sole intention of exacting revenge on those responsible. Violence, pain, grief and horrific imagery will now follow.

Obviously Chan Wook Park wasn’t breast fed as a child. I mean this was one seriously difficult movie to watch, which is testament to this mans skill and mastery of his chosen medium that he is able to frame and compose his images just as he envisions them for maximum emotional impact. I’ll be honest with you. When it became obvious that the child was about to die, I stopped the movie, left the house and went and got myself something to eat. I know it’s just a movie but damn, this was more horrible and more affecting than I imagined it would be. After I finished gorging myself on what I’m certain is mad cow infested beef from Canada, I finished viewing ‘Mr. Vengeance’ in all of its twisted, vengeful glory.

So what are we saying here? That our actions, despite the best intentions, inevitably have the direst of consequences? That’s for damn sure. Or perhaps that life is simply shit, so don’t try to change it, sit back pray death comes fast. Yeah I can see that. Or maybe the message is don’t piss off a guy who understands electricity real well. Probably the most overlooked talent that Park possesses is his ability to cast. All of the actors in this film were outstanding acquitted themselves to the material quite well. Kang-ho Sang who also lost a daughter while playing a completely different kind of role in ‘The Host’ shows considerable range and power as an actor.

Quite frankly, as well done and as powerful a film as ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ is, it is certainly one grim experience. Maybe even too grim for me, and that’s saying something. I’ll be glad when Chan wook Park gets lured to the United States and his career ruined by doing stupid romantic comedies starring Owen Wilson.  And I like Owen Wilson.

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