Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Shin Ha-Kyun, Song Kang-Ho, Bae Doo-Na
If you have high expectation for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance because of director Park Chan-Wook's previous blockbuster hit Joint Security Area, you may feel little disappointed as Park exercised a very different approach in this movie. It seems that the priority of the director was not to please the audience, but rather to satisfy his own desire. As a matter of fact, this is a film that does not reflect the taste of the general audience, which makes me feel quite inappropriate to categorize it under the mainstream commercial cinema field in which the consumer is always the priority of the distributor.
Director Park Chan-Wook finished the script of this movie long before he wrote Joint Security Area. Due to the dark and pessimistic attitude of the story, and also because of his lack of fame, he was unable to find an investor at that time. However, with the success of Joint Security Area in 2000, he became one of the most powerful and influential figure in the movie business, hence he was allowed to start the production of any movie he likes, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance... That's why I tended to call it a fulfillment of the director's desire. Yes, this is a very dark and catastrophic tale. Even though there are a lot of ransom movies around, it is quite rare to have one that only contains pure tragedy. Everyone in the movie has unbelievably bad fortune. What is ironic is that, with the film title of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, director Park didn't appear to show any sympathy for his characters.
The story of this film is not very complicated. Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun) is a deaf and dumb guy. His sister is seriously sick. In order to collect enough money for an operation, his friend (Bae Doo-Na) encourages him to kidnap the daughter of a factory owner (Song Kang-Ho). Song pays the ransom but later finds out that her daughter is dead. He makes up his mind to fight back by all means! What I like about this movie is that Park Chan-Wook attempted to tell a story with the minimum amount of dialogues possible. Background music is minimized as well. He relied heavily on visual means to build up the characters and furnish the atmosphere of the story. The artistic vision of the director is highly recognized and appreciated! Although the pace is slow, you'll never find the movie boring as Park would keep your eyes busy with a lot of beautifully designed compositions and a series of visually stunning images. There are a lot of long shots in the movie, the characters are always placed in the background while the miniatures in the foreground. Each composition is like a piece of oil painting that is worth to enjoy separately on its own. It is a movie that requires you to pay serious attention to, if you are not a focused person, I recommend you to see it more than once, in this way, you can make sure you won't miss anything!
The cast is the major attraction for general audience. In this regard, Song Kang-Ho, Shin Ha-Kyun and Bae Doo-Na have all done their parts more than satisfactory. Shin Ha-Kyun's improvement is notable. He proved to us that he is not only limited to comedy roles. With a good director and a profound script, he can handle any roles convincingly. There are also many cameos, including Jeong Jae-Yeong (No Blood No Tears) and Ryu Seung-Wan (Die Bad). But no matter the three leads or the cameos, they are only a plot device of Park. The real protagonist of the movie is always Park Chan-Wook and his unique vision.
To me, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance looks more like an art house movie than a regular mainstream commercial flick. Similar to its black and white poster, the tone of the film is very gloomy and hopeless. A piece of advice is, if you want to be on the right track and enjoy the most out of it, don't make the same mistake as most audience by expecting it to be another Joint Security Area.
Cool guy(s) - Shin Ha-Kyun, Song Kang-Ho, Bae Doo-Na
Reviewed by: Kantorates