Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
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Though “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is the first film in Chan-Wook Park’s revenge trilogy, it is the second in the trilogy to be released in the States. “OldBoy”, the second film in the trilogy, arrived several months ago, and “Sympathy” is just hitting stores now. There is no doubt that “Sympathy” is a great film, but one can’t help but notice that it doesn’t measure up to the brilliant “OldBoy”. “Sympathy” does stand well on its own, and it offers a more brutal and harrowing experience than Park’s other films, but in this brutality, some of the charm has been lost.
Ryu was born deaf and mute. His sister, whom Ryu loves greatly, is dying. The only thing that can save her is a kidney transplant. Sadly, a donor with matching blood type is nowhere to be found. Desperate, Ryu looks to the black market for help. He finds someone who says they are willing to provide the operation and the kidney for Ryu’s sister. In exchange, they want one of Ryu’s kidneys, and all of Ryu’s savings. Seeing it as the only hope left, Ryu agrees. When he shows up with the money and ready to go under the knife, they put him under. When he awakes, he has been stripped naked, left alone in a warehouse, and his money and kidney are missing. To add salt to the wound, when Ryu arrives home, he finds a message from the hospital. It turns out a donor has been found, and all that is needed to save Ryu’s sister is the money required for the operation, which Ryu no longer has. Ryu and his girlfriend come up with a plan to get the money to save his sister. It involves kidnapping Ryu’s Ex-Boss’s daughter, and holding her for ransom. They don’t plan on anyone getting hurt, but as we all know, things rarely go as planed.
Visually, “Sympathy” is filled with incredible shots. One Scene of Korean cremation funeral is especially unforgettable. It involves a still camera shot of a doll, and a human hand react to the increasing heat. It is disturbing, yet strangely beautiful in a way very few directors could pull off. Park is a powerful visual filmmaker. The style used in “Sympathy” manages to maintain a rawness that only works to heighten the horror of the films violence. “Sympathy” also has a slower pace than “OldBoy”. These two elements create a film that is both haunting, yet at times uncomfortable to watch. Rather than being exhilarated by the viewing experience, I found myself dreading what was going to happen to the characters in the film. It is a credit to Park that I cared this much about the characters, but it doesn’t make the fact that “Sympathy” has no qualms about putting its characters through hell any easier. The humor of “OldBoy” is replaced with grim foreshadowing that points to an ultimately tragic conclusion.
Make no mistake, Chan-Wook Park is one of the finest filmmakers working today. His films “JSA” and “OldBoy” are masterpieces that almost reach cinematic perfection. “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is an unforgettable film. It is disturbing yet it doesn’t scream to be re-watched like “JSA” and “OldBoy” did. It is most certainly worth a viewing from any film buff, but be prepared for a downer. This is a graphic and brutal film that lacks any true hero. This is powerful filmmaking at its peak, but the product is still short of being a masterpiece. 4 cans.
Added: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
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