• It takes a truly innovative mind to still be coming up with creative revenge films in the 21st century.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a key film (and Chan-wook an important auteur- “audacious” may be the most commonly used word to describe him) in the Korean New Wave movement. This is part of the 2002-2005 “Vengeance Trilogy” with Oldboy coming in 2003 and Lady Vengeance in 2005.
  • It opens with Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu with his green hair (a crucial color for the film). Ryu is deaf, his blood type does not match his sisters (who needs a kidney transplant).  So he goes to the black market for his kidney…. chaos ensues.
  • Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is unpredictable, bizarre, and controversial. Almost every scene or set piece has a surprise trump card to play.

yes, there is sadism– but Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is also one of the most gorgeous films of 2002

detail that will reward repeat viewings and close study

a shot, with reflection in the water, repeated often– once above with the jeep, another with the bridge,  another here, yet another another with the young girl in the water (not pictured)

  • Chan-wook (like fellow New Wave member Bong Joon-Ho) can effortlessly (at least it appears that way) blend violence and comedy. I don’t think Fargo or Blood Simple would be a bad double-billing with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance either. There is not only a horrifying sadism to the world of the film—but an ironic, comic pessimism (of course when Ryu spends his money on the black-market kidney, his sister’s name comes up on the legit list- but now, of course, he’s out of money).

There is a standalone  sequence with three men in silhouette ascending the stairs—this is repeated twice from longer distances.

  • Often shot in long takes with distancing angles (even an often-repeated overhead angle shot) that creates part of the chilly, distancing effect.

visual form, repetition on the overhead shot

…it gives the violence a bit of distance, this is a cruelly godless world

…yet again, most shots in the film have a counterpoint

There are twenty (20) or more miraculous frames. I ran out of room on the page. One of them left off is the perfect composition of Kang-ho Song’s character (Dong-jin Park) laying in his living room at the 64-minute mark.

  • Like Chang-dong’s Green Fish (1997) or even Peppermint Candy (1999) there is a strong dedication to the color throughout ; a believable, and beautiful dedication to a visual design. The autopsy room is green, the elevators, the doctor’s notebook- a sort of mint green.

is a strong dedication to the color throughout

Kang-ho Song, Korea’s greatest actor, captured in a sublime frame here

Chan-wook gets the Tarantino comparisons often, but with compositions like this, I almost think Kurosawa is more suited visually

  • There is a little talk of revolution- and social/class inequalities (particularly by the Bae Doona character) with the “his car costs 10 times more than your annual salary” but Chan-wook’s main interest is in the disturbing lack of order or sense in this tale of revenge. Though parts of this, with the kidnapping plot, can be seen as an update on Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963).
  • It is clear Chan-wook loves the visual splendor of eschewing expectations. In one tracking shot he shows four boys masturbating as they eavesdrop to a woman in pain (they mistake her vocalizing for ecstasy).
  • The composition of the Ryu character at the river at the 53-minute mark. As mentioned above, there are dozens of these. It is actually rare that a shot in the film hasn’t composed handsomely.
  • This is a tale of revenge for at least three different parties—the narrative is genius, and this is an excellent film without the visual accomplishments.

In multiple sequences Chan-wook changes the lens to capture accentuate both the foreground and background:  Once (here) the tortured girlfriend (Bae Doona) is in the foreground right with Kang-ho Song in the background center. Later, Kang-ho Song will be front right in the frame as a car (filled with doom- the terrorist group) approaches in the background center.

  • Awesome compositions through the stairs at crime scene of the team of the black-market criminals
  • Spurts of dissonant jazz music in the score

Kurosawa again is a name to evoke here with some of these masterful arrangements—near the finale the terrorist group has four heads arranged carefully at various positions in the frame

  • A Masterpiece