Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is Park Chan-wook’s first installment of his “Vengeance Trilogy”, followed by the near masterpiece of a film Oldboy and the last installment being Lady Vengeance. None of the films are literal sequels of one another but all contain the same overall theme of a likeable character with a guilty conscience having to resort to violence. Similar to his other films, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance contains some deadpan humor packed with horrific violence and told in a way that makes it impossible to look away.
After the title screen the film quickly fires off information about our main character, Ryu (Ha-kyun Skin), who is a deaf-mute that is desperately trying to help his dying sister. His sister has seemingly dedicated her life to him such as putting Ryu through art school. She is in need of a kidney transplant that her willing brother Ryu cannot give because of his incompatible blood type.
Even though she tells him she would rather die than be a burden to him, Ryu is still very determined to help his sister out. Ryu visits some sort of black market organ donation place where they tell him they will give her a kidney if he gives them his kidney. He also spends the little amount of money he had to pay for this operation. After they took out his kidney he wakes up naked and alone in an abandoned building. They took his kidney and money without holding up their end of the bargain.
His bad fortunes did not end there though, a real donor became available shortly after that incident but because Ryu spent all of his money already, he has none left to pay for this one. You cannot blame him for being extremely upset from all of these. Ryu lets off steam by smashing baseballs at a batting cage.
Ryu’s anarchist revolutionary girlfriend Cha Yeoung-mi (Donna Bae) comes up with an idea to kidnap his former boss’s friend’s daughter (sounds complicated but it is not really) and hold her random for the money they need for the transplant. She tries to justify the kidnapping because they will not harm the kid at all and they will make it seem like she is not even kidnapped but rather just staying with her parent’s friends for a while.
So they do kidnap the little girl and hold her random for the money, which they receive from the father, Mr. Park. Everything is going as planned until Ryu’s sister discovers what is going on and commits suicide. Therefore, the money Ryu received from the ransom is now completely useless.
As Ryu is burying his sister under some rocks by the river as she requested at the beginning of the film when she was close to death, Yu-sun falls into the river. Ryu is unaware that Yu-sun falls into the river until it is too late. Even when he does notice, he is afraid of going into the river because of an aversion he as to the water from his childhood.
The film shifts it’s focus to Mr. Park now as everything in his life has been taken away from him. The only thing in his mind that can save him now is seeking out vengeance on the one responsible. It is now up to him to find clues to who was behind his daughter’s kidnap and killing.
At times Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance can be a little hard to follow because the film simply implies that actions are going to happen instead of showing them and then it cuts to the consequence of that action. One example of this is when they are talking about kidnapping the boss’s friend’s daughter and then a couple of scenes later she is in their living room with them. In that case, it was pretty evident they just kidnapped her without showing it but in other instances it is not as apparent.
The cinematography in the film is nothing short of spectacular. The camera work that is often most memorable are the fight scenes. But there are plenty of well shot scenes throughout. The shot towards the beginning when Ryu and a few men are walking up to the upper level of the abandon building is one. Panning between apartments to see what is going in the neighbors apartment is another.
Certainly, it is not hard to compare Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance to Oldboy as not only are they done by the same director and because they are a part of the same “Vengeance Trilogy” they also share similar themes and violence. Oldboy is the most popular and tends to be the favorite film from the trilogy and I would agree. Although, I think Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may be more rewarding after multiple watches whereas Oldboy is not as rewarding once you know the big twists.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance shows how fundamentally good people act when they are desperate enough. The film also does a good job at somewhat justifying their reasoning and at times makes you empathize with the characters. The South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook has shown that he is a brilliant director with his own recognizable style.