Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance review by The Grim Ringler

I feel pretty safe in saying that its only a matter of time before the name of director Chan-Wook Park is on the lips of American movie geeks. Some may already know his name due to his brilliant Korean film Old Boy, but having seen the film he made prior to OB, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, you can tell that this is not a one-hit-wonder but is a director to keep a keen eye out for in the future.

While I wont reveal too much of the plot the plot takes a pretty important turn half-way through and throws the film into a pitch you are praying rights itself I will say that this is a film about revenge and its effects on the soul and psyche. A young man who is both deaf and mute is desperate to save his dying sister. She needs a kidney transplant or the illness that is trying to take her from him will be successful. Poor and without any other family, the man doesnt know how he can afford the expensive surgery that it will take to save his sisters life. Desperate, the man happens upon an ad for a group that buys and sells organs. He makes contact with the group and strikes a bargain they will remove his liver and sell it, and he will buy a different one from them that will be used to save his sister. It sounds like a plan, a dangerous one, but a plan just the same. When he awakes, naked, dazed, and without a liver, within the warehouse the surgery was performed in, he has lost every last bit of hope. They have stolen his liver, all of his own money, and have left him with nothing. There is no way to get the money to help his sister. His girlfriend though has one last idea. They will kidnap the daughter of the man who had not long ago fired him, ransom her, then take the money to get the operation done. Heck, she figures, the girl will love spending time with them and theyll all have nothing but fun. The kidnapping goes smoothly and happens off-screen and the girl is told that she is staying with these new people while her family deals with a problem and shell be returned soon. It looks like things might actually workuntil that is his sister stumbles upon the truth of what his brother has done in order to get the money for her surgery. It is then that the film shifts into high gear and nothing can be counted any longer.

I hate leaving you with that little bite of the plot but to reveal more takes away much of the power of this film and takes some of the impact that director Park has instilled in it. Needless to say, the film is just really getting going by the one hour mark and from there its a pretty far drop the characters in the film are about to take, and unfortunately, you have the honor of going with them. Having seen two films now by Park, its easy to see that he doesnt ascribe to the American notion of letting the filmgoers off easy. As the watcher of the film are damned just the same as the characters are and its not easy to watch what is going to happen. His is not a pleasant vision, but its one that you cannot take your eyes from. The twists in his films dont feel like gags (and I call upon M. Night Shyamalan here, a director I love save for one film, so this isnt a jibe at him), but are extensions of the plot and his narrative. He is willing to take the film to very dark places, to paint people into black corners, so he can see how they react and what they do. I will give something away here there is no Mr. Vengeance. Not really. The title is reference to the idea that anyone who gives into the need for vengeance is someone to pity, to feel for. In a sequence I will reveal, the young man out to save his sister finds the people that stole his kidney and plots to kill them all. But in plotting and setting his plan in action he loses some of himself. He changes. What we see in the film is that even the most pitiable man, even the most awful crime isnt always one to make revenge upon. The loss of soul, Mr. Park seems to say, is worth more than any need to take action upon the evils committed against us. Revenge isnt glamorous or something to take lightly, but is a decision one makes, a pact one makes with the devil that cannot be taken back.

For what is essentially a low budget film, Sympathy has a hell of a lot of production value. The factory the lead works in thunders with sound. The actors are all wonderful in their roles. And not once do you get a feeling that you are seeing behind the robes of the wizard. Park is a director that knows what he has and uses it as fully as possible.

As much as I was affected by Sympathy, I cant give it a higher score because not everything in the film worked for me. There were moments that I felt were too much like throwing everything but the sink into the proceedings. Some things were predictable. And overall I just didnt buy the entire package as I did so easily with Old Boy, which is reasonable being that this was made before that film. Sympathy is an engaging and very dark film that shows that revenge works like an infection and like pain, infects everything it comes in contact with. I just felt that the film took too long to get going, white washed a few moments that should have been better explained, and didnt work completely for me. But man, by the time you get to the climax, all doubts are out the window and you are with the movie no matter what. So while I may not love this film nearly as much as I loved Mr. Parks Old Boy, but this is still a very good film and well worth the trouble it might take to track down an all region version. This is a director to pay very attention to and to mark well. I have to admit that I pray he doesnt make the mistake of coming to make films in America as a lot of talented people have done that and have walked away as lesser directors. Theres a rumor of an American film he may do, which is a mistake for a few reasons, but I do think its only a matter of time before he re-locates his twisted vision to America. I for one will hope that his vision remains intact when he arrives.

Not perfect but a dark look at revenge that will have you cringing as much from what you see as from what you learn about yourself in the process of imagining what if?


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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