- 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.
- 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).
- Often shot in long takes with distancing angles (even an often-repeated overhead angle shot) that creates part of the chilly, distancing effect.
- 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.
- 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.
- Awesome compositions through the stairs at crime scene of the team of the black-market criminals
- Spurts of dissonant jazz music in the score
- A Masterpiece
@Drake Nice one! I felt that this one was underrated when I read your Chan-wook Park page.
This one and Handmaiden share the second spot after Oldboy in Chan-wook Park fimography.
@Mad Mike- Yep, there’s no other way to say it- I was flat wrong about the film before.
I was especially impressed with the sequence when Ryu slowly walks after finishing his shift at the plant. Park direction wonderfully translates the feeling of exhaustion.
And you’re so right about many scenes having counterpoint. I especially loved twin scenes at the morgue (I think it was a long time since I’ve seen this). Great contrast of Kang-Ho Song character feelings between them.
Is this the start of a Park Chan-Wook study, or a one off? I also think I was underrating this the first time, these points you make are super convincing and make me excited for a rewatch.
@Declan- It started off as a one off– but it I’m not exactly sure who I’m going to tackle here after Michael Mann (just finished the Malick study a few nights ago). Maybe I’ll select Park Chan-Wook. I was thoroughly impressed with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
I’m planning on doing a Park Chan Wook study in a couple months, I’m going to line it up with the mid-October release of Decision to Leave (2022)
I have not been able to locate this film, I am curious as to where you were able to find it.
@James Trapp – If you have VPN, most of his films are on Netflix or MUBI.
@James Trapp- I’m planning to do the same study myself- I’m hoping to get to Joint Security Area within the next week. My apologies- I am not sure where I caught Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance here in 2021
@Drake what have you been watching recently? Have you gotten to any new MS or MP films you think are worth chasing down and watching or revisiting?
@Harry- I’m finishing up a Satyajit Ray study and have been doing a Terence Davies one as well- both very rewarding. Seijun Suzuki and Park Chan-wook next. TCM had a little music and movies retrospective so I caught Alice’s Restaurant, Tommy, The Wall, The Harder They Come and a few others that will be added to the archives. I still watch plenty of new stuff- 2021 or 2022 films (The Worst Person in the World, The Souvenir: Part II, Last Night in Soho, Petite Maman, Lamb, and more) but nothing on the MS or MP level recently at least.
@Drake have you seen Benediction? I caught it recently in theatres and thought it was a solid effort.
I’m also planning on watching more Park Chan-wook films for the lead up to Decision to Leave, seen the two Vengeance films in the past month and thought they were great. Also been a big admirer of The Handmaiden and Oldboy. Think I’ll do Thirst next.
@Harry- Yes a very nice little Park Chan-wook study you have going there. Good work. I did not see Benediction unfortunately. That was the plan (and sort of the inspiration for the study) but it did not work out. Hopefully it starts streaming somewhere soon.
@Drake – “Seijun Suzuki and Park Chan-wook next”
This sentence is music to my ears!!!
I was going to wait for a bit to start for Park Chan-wook but I might start soon myself since I may occassionally run into issues finding some of his films. Luckly I have Joint Security Area on Blue Ray from Arrow Video.
Watching this again on MUBI, a 53 on RT is a joke. This is a MS at worst. Not that I always agree with RT but it’s pretty rare that I disagree to this extent.
@Drake – Did you just changed this one from MS to MP?
@Alt Mash- I have changed this one, yes
@Drake – What have you graded Oldboy after your study? Is Mr. Vengeance now the highest graded Park Chan Wook film or is it still Oldboy?
@Alt Mash- Oldboy is a half-step below Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Oldboy may have the more visceral gut punch – but the compositions are superior in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance without much debate.
@Drake – Park Chan Wook once said in an interview that he will pick Mr. Vengeance over Oldboy just because the former was a flop.
That was the only time I heard someone pick Mr Vengeance over Oldboy until now.
I just watched all of his films and I think Oldboy is his strongest.
@James Trapp do you agree with @Drake on this one?
@AltMash – Always happy to see an active debate involving Park Chan Wook.
But to answer your question regarding @Drake the short answer in no since I have Old Boy (2003) as his best film and a top 50 all time. But after my latest viewing of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance I think its a borderline, MP/MS leaning MP. However, Drake’s claim that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has more standout compositions I won’t argue against. In fact his claim ” Oldboy may have the more visceral gut punch – but the compositions are superior in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance without much debate.” seems quite accurate to me.
With Old Boy (2003) I’ve seen many times now and the visceral energy hits just as hard every time I re-visit. I think Old Boy (2003) hits greater heights like the legendary the hammer scene. Both are fascinating in their explorations of revenge but I think Old Boy has greatest narrative pull and start to finish though both are tremendous
I know I’ve talked about this concept on other pages but I think some films work both as having great individual scenes and add up to a great whole and other its more of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts type thing. Old Boy to me represents the former and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance the latter. Old Boy has an amazing score as well right from that opening low angle shot of Dae-su holding a man over the edge of the building; its a wild ride start to finish.
Man, I think you’ve inspired me to revisit both in the next couple of days ha so thanks @AltMash@Drake
I’ll post more thoughts after but in summation I still prefer Old Boy (2003) for zero hesitation