Sympathy for Mr.Vengeance (2002)
By: Devon B. on September 18, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, Korean DD 2.0, Korean DTS 5.1. English Subtitles. 116 minutes
The Movie
Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Jae-sun Lee, Mu-yeong Lee, Yong-jong Lee, Chan-wook Park
Country: South Korea
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the first film in the Revenge Trilogy from director Chan-wook Park. This was followed by Oldboy, and the third film is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I was curious to see Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as I found Park's JSA very powerful, and found Oldboy intriguing. After seeing three of his films, I'm still not sure what I think of him as a director overall.

In Sympathy, Ryu is a deaf, green haired mute whose sister is suffering kidney failure. He tries to give her his kidney, but is not a compatible donor. With money tight, he goes to great lengths to get her one on the black market, but when that doesn't work, he ends up really desperate. A legit organ comes through, but because of his dealings with the black market, he has no money to pay for the procedure. His girlfriend convinces him the only way to save his sister is through kidnapping. The kidnapping also doesn't go smoothly, and everything starts falling apart for Ryu.

While I preferred Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance over Oldboy, I still think JSA is by far the best I've seen from Park. The long build up didn't have the dramatic payoff for me as it did in JSA, and I'm sure a lot of people just find these films too slow. I think all three films listed definitely would've benefited from trimming, but I think that about pretty much any movie that isn't Bad Taste, so what do I know? For those willing to watch on a purely visual level though, Sympathy has a lot of great imagery. Shots are taken from a variety of interesting angles, and even routine things are presented in unique ways. The cinematography is consistently excellent, so if that's the sort of thing you're into, this film is one to seek out.

There are some interesting style touches, like the use of title cards for Ryu's voice, but the best element for me was some bizarre, bleak, black humour. The group masturbation will be the black moment most viewers remember, but I think honourable mention also goes to the kidnapping justification and the juxtaposition of the two autopsy scenes.

This film does have some grisly, gritty violence, but it's not a gore fest. It's not even an action fest. The violence is often abrupt and harsh, and can come with little to no warning. Some of the worst things in the film don't actually appear on screen, and it is testimony to the performances of the thespians involved that they come across so strongly.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is presented at 2:35:1 in a 16x9-enhanced print. The image is sharp, and the print is very clean, with only the very rare speck. There is some light grain in darker scenes, but it's never distracting. Reds do balloon a bit, but otherwise colours look nice.
The audio is available in Korean DTS, 5.1, or 2.0 mixes. As this movie has lots of quiet moments, the 2.0 mix isn't that different from the 5.1, though the stereo sounds accompanying the presence of fire (particularly the engulfing flames of a cremation) are quite good. The levels are all well mixed, and the violence is accentuated with nice thuds. The subs do falter in one scene, which makes Ryu's motivations unclear.
Extra Features
For trailers we get Sympathy's as well as those for the anti-piracy ad, One Take Only, Versus, and Eko Eko Azarack. There's also a stills gallery, some quick interviews with the principle cast, and four featurettes. The featurettes add up to roughly 40 minutes all together, and cover sign language, the make up (which was cool), behind the scenes, and cameos. The latter is pretty irrelevant unless you're up on famous Koreans. There's also a Korean language commentary by the director and actor Ryu Seung Wan, with English subs. They give info on making a film in Korea, style choices made, and your standard commentary track information.

Not listed as an extra, but something I consider to be far more of a bonus than a bunch of fucking trailers is that the slick is reversible. Don't want a massive OFLC logo mucking up your display case? Simply flip the slick, and there's the full cover sans rating.
The Verdict
Fans of Chan-wook Park and highly imaginative visuals will need to check this out. If you want a John Woo style action fest (from back when John Woo could make John Woo style action fests, that is), get a different title in the Eastern Eye line: Born to Fight. But if you want a character driven, gritty, somewhat slow, drama, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance should meet your needs.
Movie Score
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