"Living without hate for people is almost impossible. There is NOTHING wrong with fantasizing about revenge. You can have that feeling; YOU just shouldn't ACT ON IT..." -Park Chan-Wook
Park Chan-Wook…the man has become a household name in Asia after his breakout hit “J.S.A.: Joint Security Area” and the highly acclaimed “Vengeance Trilogy” that caused Western audiences to take notice of the South Korean Director’s cinematic ability and flair. The “Vengeance Trilogy” is now being released in one collection. “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”, “Oldboy” and “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance” are three films that have different plotlines and characters; the only thing that ties them together are the similar themes about suffering, revenge and redemption; or some may say the goal for redemption.
Now for the first time, the 8-disc Korean versions of the acclaimed trilogy is available. Completists and fans of the trilogy will definitely want to own this new set. This boxed set includes the director's "fade to white" version of "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". Park Chan-Wook himself prefers this style where the movie is shown in full color, and as the film progresses, the colors slowly fades away until it becomes black and white.
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE
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 he 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.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½ - Stars]
OLDBOY is the 2nd installment of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy that is loosely based on the Japanese comic by Tsuchiya Garon and Minegishi Nobuaki. I use the term "loosely" because the plot, characters and almost everything else is completely re-worked for the big screen. I've read that Park saw his film; "Sympathy with Mr. Vengeance" a sort of commercial failure, so he comes back with an effective counter-attack. “OLDBOY” made me re-think the old adage: revenge is best served cold, because this film emits SCORCHING FIRE.
Oh Daesu (Choi Min-Sik) is a man with a wife and child. He is kidnapped and kept in captivity in a small room, fed with dumplings mostly as his main dish, with only a television to keep him company for 15 years. Someone paid an obscene amount of money to incarcerate him indefinitely. Mentally tortured and overcome with a desire for revenge, he plots for escape. One day, he is set free and dumped in the streets, with a suit to wear and left with some money. Daesu meets and hooks up with a young sushi chef; Mido (Hye-Jeong Kang) to look for the man responsible for his incarceration.
"Oldboy" has a lot of visual wallop and visceral punch. Park's stylish direction and the VERY intriguing premise are truly awesome. There are quite a few films that really stayed with me; this film is one of them. I can still clearly remember the great soundtrack, the visually original hallway fight, the tooth-pulling, the live octopus devouring and others. The ingenious style of its direction and the balanced intensity of its execution keep the proceedings grounded. The plot is a bit over-the-top but to the director's credit, it remains balanced and believable.
This film may be considered an ultra-violent dark film by most people but it is actually very tame when it comes to blood and gore. The proceedings are so well executed that the atmosphere emulates violence and darkness. The very set up and sequences of what happens in each shot creates a lot of tension that people will remember it as a very dark and violent film, that it is in fact gorier and bloodier than it actually is. Park has the hand of an artist and is a true visionary to be able to pull off this sensory manipulation. "Oldboy" has a lot of uncompromising twists and turns. You will have to keep in mind that Park's films are usually a character study of its main characters.
Aside from Park's stellar direction and premise, the film draws its strength from its excellent cast. Choi Min-Sik gives a near-stellar performance as the main character. I remember his haircut that looks almost like a mangled lion with a chopped black mane. His portrayal of a BROKEN everyday man is one of the reasons why "Oldboy" has been elevated to "cult status". The film's final image; Choi's joyful but at the same time, infinitely sorrowful SMILE will forever be remembered by its audiences. Ji-Tae Yu plays the villain; Woo-Jin, suave and handsome; with his Bond-like physical attributes and a very elegant charisma. Despite his good looks, Ji-Tae Yu has a very menacing presence and does command attention like a deity, with a "mere" mortal as his plaything.
One VERY minor (so minor) fault the film may have is that the method of which the actual revenge is executed. The hint of hypnotism may require a tiny suspension of disbelief. Everything plays out so well for the antagonist; we are all expected to believe that he is a genius, with an intellect dedicated to the torture and punishment of one man. He has dedicated 2 decades of his life to his vengeance which may be one of the coldest, if not, certainly the most perverse. However, this very minor flaw is forgivable, because the film is so focused and succeeds in immersing us in its sequences that all we consider are the things that it has done PERFECT.
Oldboy explores a moral issue about vengeance; what happens next after you do exact your revenge? If revenge becomes a main focus of your life, what else is there to live for? With Daesu and Lee Woo-Jin, the answer is very different.
OLDBOY is PURE contrasting cinematic genius; it is repulsively ugly but at the same time, it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is gut-wrenching but at the same time it is very delicate. It is cold but indeed emotional. It is mind-bending at times and certainly artistic in its execution. With its flair and style, it is a bunch of contradictions that adheres to coherency. Park will not only entertain but make you uncomfortable. It does no other film has done: to entertain while at the same time analyzes pure emotional pain. It is TERRIFIC!
Highest Possible Recommendation! [ 5- Out of 5 Stars]
Oldboy's acclaimed Fight scene
SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (Aka, Lady Vengeance)
LADY VENGEANCE (aka. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is the third installment in Park Chan-Wook's "vengeance" trilogy, which will undoubtedly be compared to "Oldboy" since it cemented Park Chan-Wook's status as a frontrunner of Korean cinema and catapulted him to international stardom beside Kim Ki-Duk, Lee Chang-Dong, Kim Ji-Won and Hong Sang-Soo. One thing with Oldboy and Lady Vengeance; while “Oldboy” is like a shot of the finest Tequila and Lady Vengeance is similar to a shot of the smoothest cognac. “Oldboy” is scorching fire while “Lady Vengeance” is ice cold.
After being wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young child, a beautiful young woman (Lee Young-Ae) is imprisoned for 13 years and forced to give up her own daughter. While in prison, she gains the respect and loyalty of her fellow cellmates. While in prison, she plots her vendetta on the man responsible for her imprisonment. A man called Baek (Oldboy's Choi Min-Sik). Upon her release she sets in motion an elaborate plan of retribution, but what she discovers is a truth so horrifying, even revenge doesn't seem punishment enough...
Park Chan-Wook has the skill to shock and disturb audiences and Korean critics alike with his style and themes, but he doesn't resort to such exploitative lengths as most Japanese film-makers. Lady Vengeance expands more of subtle character study of Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae, she plays goody character in Dae Jang Geum). I believe the film is divided into 3 parts of a whole. First, with a series of flashbacks, Geum-ja is shown as a woman who has found religion while in prison. She becomes well-liked by other inmates and a model prisoner during her 13-year tenure. She is seen as kind, and develops superb baking skills during this period. Finally, she is revealed to be planning an elaborate revenge against Mr. Baek and enlists the aid of her fellow inmates in orchestrating the plan. The 2nd part is Geum-ja pulls a 180 turn from her reputation in prison; she begins to implement her plan into action with the aid of a retired cop. The 3rd part is the emotional/spiritual aftermath of her vengeance against Mr. Baek.
Geum-ja's character is very calculating but very reserved. Her goal for redemption is expressed with her search for her daughter (adopted by an Australian couple); one may say that her child embodies the good things left in her. She is alluring, cool but sorrowful. Lee Young-Ae's performance is excellent; she does a sort of "femme fatale" portrayal of her character. Geum-ja embodies the sheer determination of a person in a difficult situation who has a vision for redemption, but not after she has "closure" from the wronged done her. Geum-ja has become her own mission. She admits her sins and looks for atonement while at the same time plots sheer revenge. Two contrasting human characteristics are explored, which is the real Geum-ja?
Park Chan-Wook's direction is the work of an artist; evolves before our very eyes while improving the finesse and style of the screenplay itself. Fans may complain that Lady Vengeance may lack the sheer intensity, grittiness and toughness of its predecessors but I think it would unfair to expect Park to repeat the raw impact of Oldboy with its uncompromising twists. Lady Vengeance may be a bit slower paced and "gentler" with its style. Park also uses some subtle symbolism embodied with a man-faced dog with a bullet entering its brow and exiting its "vital" genitalia. It has a great, even feel and the proceedings stay grounded. Choi Min-Sik's performance is also note-worthy; he establishes a truly sadistic but pitiable portrayal of Baek. He plays it with a disturbing normalcy despite the character's twisted nature.
The film has its potential flaws; some may feel that the different tone in the 3rd act steers the screenplay a bit off course. It changes its focus to many; some viewers may see the 3rd act as equivalent to an "AA" gathering. However, I rather think it is meant as an expression of Geum-ja's realization that her selfish vengeance should not be that important nor her main focus. The third act is both darkly funny and engrossing. Viewers will have to keep in mind that this is a character study (of sorts) up till its closing credits.
It is to be noted that the film's way of handling violence is a different from its predecessors; much of it occurs off-camera than full view. I think this approach is handled well and delivers a more profound effect. Park considers the situation and succeeds in delivering the violence on a more personal level. I will stop here because with this film, the less you know about the proceedings then the more you'll appreciate its vision. The much 'hyped' about "fade to white" version actually adds to the film's complexitites in its symbolisms. While I can see why Park would prefer this version and I thought this style added to the film's conecept, I found the theatrical version to be a satisfying enough experience.
LADY VENGEANCE successfully closes Park's vengeance trilogy. This trilogy will definitely find its mark as one of the most engaging bits of film-making. I've read that Park is usually accused of making films mostly with his brain and not his heart, I guess that's why he made "I'm a Cyborg, But that's Ok". Park is now assured that every film he makes will be anticipated by fans and critics alike.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [5 stars]
Like him or not, Park Chan-Wook has made his mark in international cinema and reached a status that only a few have ever reached. The “Vengeance Trilogy” will forever be remembered as three of the most BRILLIANT movies about revenge ever imagined.
One of the best and possibly the greatest film trilogies to ever hail from South Korea. Park Chan-Wook intrigues, excites, scares and perhaps even define the very evils of revenge with such beautiful and visceral impact that challenges the limits of filmmaking. Think the Bride (from Kill Bill) did the best revenge? Give this one a look. Simply incredible and off the hook!! Read Full Review here.
Having now seen all three films in Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, I can really appreciate what a great director he is and what a talent he has for creating high-tension dramas revolving around the themes of violence, revenge, madness, and occasionally redemption. The films are all very well acted and directed with a visual poetry and precision that seems to be Park's signature style. The three films themselves aren't true sequels since the characters and events portrayed in each … more