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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

A 2002 South Korean revenge drama directed by Park Chan-wook.

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4 ½ Stars: The Opening Chapter of Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy....

  • Aug 29, 2009

SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is the first chapter of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy. Oldboy was released first in U.S. shores, this film was released after on dvd. (When it fact this is the first chapter). After Park's breakout hit "J.S.A.", the director was finally able to make the films she always wanted to, I've read that Park originally wrote the script for "Mr. Vengeance" almost 10 years before he managed to shoot the film. This film was highly anticipated in Korea but received mixed reactions because of the violent content. It didn't become as much a commercial success as "Oldboy" in Park's native land.

Unable to afford proper medical care for his sister dying from kidney failure, Ryu (Ha-Kyun Shin) turns to the black market to sell his own organs only to end up cheated of his kidney and life savings. His girlfriend urges Ryu to kidnap the daughter of a rich industrialist Dong-Jin Park, (Kang Ho-Song, Thirst) who had recently laid him off. Ryu agrees, but unforeseen tragedies turn an innocent con into a merciless and brutal quest for revenge. Bound by their personal losses and deep-seated anger, the two men are thrust into a downward spiral of destruction.

Park's direction in this film is very different from the other 2 chapters. His (sort of) minimalist approach to this film is quite unique. He avoids camera panning/movements and it kind of gives the audience an observational perspective, that ends up looking very simple and natural. Close-ups were still used so he didn't shoot it as a strict minimalism, but the close-ups were only shot to convey emotion. There is barely any music in the proceedings until the last act. These are not negative comments but rather I was impressed that Park still managed to convey raw emotion without the usual accompanying soundtrack and camera work. The film is a little slow-paced but the plot did truly evolve because it was structured properly.

The style reminded me a bit of Hong Sang-Soo (Woman is the Future of Man), one of the very strict minimalist directors of Korean cinema. (I've never seen a Hong film this violent though.) Yes, the film is extremely violent and brutal; there is even a hint of necrophilia, sexuality and quite a few disturbing images. However, there are occasional funny (if somewhat dark) moments in the film. I don't think it hurts but actually helps the pacing of the film in the first act.

The key to this film's success lies in its characters; Gong-jin and Ryu are very natural and the actors who played them were very impressive. The two leads are well rounded and believable, but not necessarily too attaching to its viewers. I really began sympathizing with the two characters; despite their best efforts, nothing works out their way. Ha-Kyun Shin's performance is note-worthy for his superb performance as a deaf-mute; which is a difficult role since his character can't speak, but he did an excellent job since I ended up rooting for Ryu in the first act of the film. Kang-Ho Song also delivers an excellent performance; looking into his eyes, you can really feel his pain and anger. Other leads are Ryu's sister (Ji Eun Lim) and his activist girlfriend (Bae Du-Na) who is always "thinking" ahead. The two ladies do their characters justice and also gave excellent performances.

The film has the ability to depress its viewers with the very sad premise. Some viewers may be turned off with the violence, it's definitely certain that this film is not a movie for everyone. However, if one pays more attention to the superb performances and the VERY natural direction, I guarantee you will be rewarded. While not as visually stylish as the other 2 chapters, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" still packs a lot of visceral punch.


I've mentioned in my "LADY VENGEANCE" comment that I intentionally reviewed the three "revenge" films in reverse. I believe that vengeance darkens the soul and often causes one to lose his way. When one loses his way, one should try to go back to the beginning to avoid making the same mistakes in order to move forward.
Also, if you look at all 3 revenge films you will find the following themes; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the reaction (losses to fate), Oldboy is the focused channel (pure searing anger) and Lady Vengeance is the closure (leading to redemption). I think there was a reason Park shot all three films in 3 acts because they all have 3 very common linked theme that expresses another tale. This is just my added take, I could be mistaken.

dvd by Tartan Poster Scene Bae Du-Na scene scene

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December 05, 2010
Indeed Sir Woo, also I didn't even notice that "Oldboy" was released first here.
August 31, 2009
Here's something I really need to see. I've caught OLDBOY but for some reason not this one. Go figure.
September 01, 2009
I really liked this film and displays Park's early directorial skills; this wasn't a commercial success as Oldboy was. He has gotten a lot better with Oldboy and Thirst; it is fun to see a director become better through the years. Unlike Michael Bay who seems to be going backwards....
September 01, 2009
But as he goes backwards they give him more money and more power...
More Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance reviews
Quick Tip by . June 27, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
I had no idea what to expect (other than vengeance) from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeace, the first film of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy. I've liked Park's dark take on the thematic material he works with as best exemplified in the second film of the trilogy Oldboy, but at the same time I wasn't as impressed with his vampire film Thirst. However, being open to new filmmakers and being a lover of foreign cinema, I decided to give this a try and was rather pleasantly surprised.   …
review by . January 05, 2007
Asians excel at horror because, not having to pander to Hollywood's rules, they can take you anywhere at all. For all this filmed was billed as a gory horror, violence was minimal, and certainly not gratuitous, but man......it was good when it happened!    The film revolves around the lives of a deaf-mute and his sister who requires a kidney transplant. A kidnap attempt to raise money goes tragically wrong, and much blood-letting ensues. The ending makes me wince to this day. …
review by . December 27, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy sure does give you a break from the normal film and it makes you appreciate Korean cinema. I saw Oldboy first and I was impressed and it is now one of my favorite films so initially I had to see the rest of the trilogy. First, if you are wondering what the violence is around I think it exceeds Oldboy a little and though most of the film can be comical or even sad at times the violent scenes has its moments. The film is about a deaf-mute man named Ryu who comes …
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Before he made the notorious cult hit Oldboy, South Korean director Chan-wook Park created Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, an equally gruesome yet elegant meditation on revenge. Desperate to get a kidney transplant for his dying sister, a deaf and dumb young man named Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin, Save the Green Planet!) kidnaps the daughter of a wealthy industrialist named Park (Kang-ho Song, Shiri). Despite Ryu's best intentions, things go horribly awry, setting in motion a series of escalating revenges--to describe the plot in more detail would undercut the movie, because much of its power comes from the spare and skillful storytelling. Chan-wook Park is careful to ground the audience in the characters' emotional lives; when the violence begins, the bloody events unfold with the hypnotic power of the revenge tragedies of the Shakespearean era, which had over-the-top plots and littered the stage with bodies, yet were full of rich poetry. Park's eye for startling images and careful editing creates a visual poetry, grotesque yet often haunting. Certainly not a film for everyone--squeamish viewers had best beware, while anyone who wants their violence flagrant and guilt-free will be disappointed--but cinephiles looking to have their hearts squeezed along with their stomachs will enjoy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.--Bret Fetzer
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Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Crime, Drama, Foreign, Thriller
Release Date: March 29, 2002
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: November 22, 2005
Runtime: 129 minutes
Studio: Tartan Video
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