Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Boksuneun naui geot) (2002)

Revenge was never this sweet.
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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - Revenge was never this sweet.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Boksuneun naui geot) is the first instalment of Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy (followed by Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). It is a complex tale of various intertwined vengeful exploits and the strongest yet perhaps the least accessible of the trilogy. The audience isn't spoonfed the plot and it is likely to require multiple viewings to absorb all of the intricacies of the story. It can sometimes take a while to work out what is going on when the scenes switch and there are a lot of details that are not revealed until later on in the proceedings.

The story initially revolves around a deaf and mute factory worker, Ryu, desperate to help his sister get a kidney transplant. Out of desperation, he resorts to crime to try and make the operation a reality. Having been shafted by illegal organ traders and falling victim to organ theft himself, Ryu and his anarchist girlfriend come up with a cunning plan to kidnap the daughter of the owner of the electronics factory in which Ryu works. The plan is planned so that nobody gets hurt and the kidnapee doesn't even realise she is the victim of a crime. Unfortunately for everyone, things don't go to plan and much more than feelings get hurt.

Chan-wook Park masterfully merges what could easily become an amusing crime caper encircling a comedy of errors with a serious and emotional tale of tragedies. The tone of the film changes when Ryu's sister discovers how her brother is raising the money, the tragedies start and the seeds for various acts of vengeance are sown. Ryu seeks revenge on the criminals that stole his money and his offal, the father of the kidnap victim seeks revenge on the kidnappers and a surprise act of retribution is thrown in at the end for good measure.

The acts of violence that are prompted by the unfortunate events are quite nasty and performed to exact a punishment equal to the hurt caused. It isn't a simple death for a death exchange, never a quick and painless demise and an element of torture is included to reflect the wrong that is being reacted to. The carnage is often offset by something peculiar and verging on the comedic (depending on your sense of humour). This creates conflicting emotional responses in situations where there should be no room for laughter.

The choice to make one of the main characters unable to hear or vocalise is an act of bravery on behalf of the director and the viewer is often subjected to the quietness from Ryu's point of view. This leads to some interesting interactions between characters and also helps to move the plot along. The film claims the title of "first film in history to have a sex scene with sign language" which redefines the concept of an intense fingering. Ryu's disability can be attributed to causing the main tragedy that starts the ball rolling for the various acts of brutality that ensue. It is also a reason to inspire sympathy in the viewer, this sympathy is an integral part of the mood that the film provokes and aspects of sympathy can be felt for all involved in the various misfortunes. The whole disharmony is instigated by acts of desperation from normal people.

The story is almost Shakespearean in its execution and is held together by some intriguing and well developed characters. Each character has a backstory that becomes apparent without the need for over explanation and these backstories are used to drive the outcomes of the various vengeances. There is a satisfying click in the brain when things fall into place as a seemingly irrelevant part of the film becomes relevant later on in the story. Weighing in at just over two hours, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance manages to fill every minute with pertinent information and there is no need for irrelevant side plots to make up time. There is a reason for every action in this film and it is that attention to detail that makes this such an engrossing tale. At no point does it seem drawn out and remains captivating the entire time.
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Categories: Asian Horror Movies
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