Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Park Chan-Wook
While blatant violence has been discounted as a device to distract the audience from a film’s lack in substance, director Chan-Wook Park proves that theory wrong, by showing that explicit violence may not be a bad sign. In Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance, the first in his “revenge trilogy’, nothing is left to the imagination. Though he deliberately expresses every bit of violence, Park makes the most of it by building the intrigue with the suspended shots of his characters in the middle of the frame, showing emotions of the actor, but not what they are reacting to. Park allows viewers to imagine what horrible scene the actors are reacting to, then completely shocks them with an even more violent scene.
This story of revenge begins when Ryu, a deaf and mute factory worker, desperately needs a kidney transplant for his sick sister. He writes a touching letter to be read on the air at a radio station, detailing how he quit art school to work, to get enough money for the transplant. When he is fired from his factory job, he resorts to making a deal with organ harvesters to exchange his kidney for a compatible one. The two sons of the chief organ snatcher lead him up what seems to be unending flights of stairs to an abandoned parking deck. When he wakes up, he is missing a kidney and the $10,000 that he paid for the kidney switching deal. On top of that, the hospital has found a match for his sister, but the medical bills for the procedure come to an ironic $10,000. To raise the money, Ryu and his girlfriend plot the kidnapping of his former boss at the factory. Contemplating it more, they decide that it would be too obvious for a recently-fired employee to arrange a kidnapping, and kidnap the daughter of his former boss’s neighbor instead. Kidnapping Yoosun starts out innocently enough – the lonely little girl finds a playmate in Ryu’s sister; Ryu’s sister finds relief from her illness in the little girl. Yoosun’s father agrees to pay the ransom, but just as things start to turn in Ryu’s favor, his sister commits suicide in an effort to eliminate the burden of her illness on Ryu and company. While he is burying his sister in their childhood stomping grounds, an epileptic finds Yoosun, sleeping in the car, and accidentally drowns her in the river nearby. The rest of the film is basically a web of revenge involving Ryu, Yoosun’s father, Ryu’s girlfriend, and the organ snatchers.
From the actual violence to the simplest jerking movements, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance takes advantage of acting with the whole body. My favorite scene was Ryu’s flying baseball bat clobber with a running start. If there were a competition for most creative way to torture or kill somebody in a movie, Chan-Wook Park would win with his “drown-in-a-river-by-cutting-the-achilles-tendons” method. He even shows the cremation of the little girl, Yoosun, right down to the seared flesh. This film is definitely not for people with weak stomachs.
The direct translation of the title is “vengeance is mine,” but the question is, whose? Is it the honest Ryu, who is duped and robbed of a kidney by the organ dealers, who is no good as a kidnapper? Or does vengeance belong to president Dong-Jin, whose daughter was kidnapped by Ryu and his girlfriend? Does vengeance ultimately belong to the secret political group, through their execution of Dong-Jin, who represents the evil corporate world? Park leaves the question unanswered, but delivers a ride packed with unambiguous action.
Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance gets an A+ in visuals, if not for the hilly scenes in the countryside surrounding Seoul, then for the awesomely gruesome special effects. Director Chan-Wook Park’s use of violence to tell a story is the first of its kind, giving the film an A in originality.
For fans of action films, Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance blows the mind. For all other movie-watchers, the overall enjoyability clocks in at a low B-, due to its graphic nature.