(2002)3Tom VickPark Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has a tone that will not be unfamiliar to followers of the New Korean Cinema. It has much in common with the independent films of Kim Ki-duk, sharing with Kim's films Bad Guy and The Isle a deeply melancholy tone, chillingly distanced depictions of violence and cruelty, and a mute central character. Park, working within the studio system (his previous film, Joint Security Area, was a huge box-office hit), works on a much broader canvas. If Kim is concerned with the intimate cruelties two people can inflict on one another, Park is more interested in how desperation and revenge can spread like an infection through any number of people. The title may imply that vengeance is personified in only one character, but, in fact, nearly all the main characters are animated by it, which inevitably leads to their various downfalls. Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun), the deaf mute protagonist, seeks revenge on the black market organ donors who cheated him. Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), takes revenge on Ryu's girlfriend, Yeong-mi (Bae Du-na), for kidnapping his daughter, and, in the film's irony-soaked conclusion, Yeong-mi is avenged as well. In many ways, this is a standard "kidnapping gone wrong" movie, but Park is less interested in plot than mood. He keeps the pace slow, and develops a couple of extended set pieces that rival the ear removal scene in Reservoir Dogs for excruciating ugliness. Dong-jin takes a break from torturing Yeong-mi to calmly eat some takeout food she had ordered before his arrival, barely noting the puddle of her urine that seeps under the tray; Ryu interrupts the organ dealers in the midst of abusing an anesthetized victim to carry out an equally drawn out and vicious attack on them. The effect of Park's pacing is to make the film both difficult to watch and impossible to forget. Some shots are indelible for their beauty and horror, such as one in which a character carries the bleeding body of another through the shallows of a river, leaving two vaporous trails of blood in the water. Park uses these unsettling details to show how easily ordinary people, out of desperation, can turn into monsters. It's a perfectly pessimistic moral for such a disturbingly riveting film.
Korean director Park Chan-wook followed up his highly acclaimed Joint Security Area with this tale of a deaf mute named Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) trying to help his sister (Lim Ji-Eun) get a kidney transplant. Because his blood type is incompatible and no donors are available, he turns to a group of black-market organ dealers who offer to find one in return for one of his and ten million won. The dealers rip him off, so Ryu conspires with his girlfriend, a political activist, to kidnap his former boss' young daughter and ransom her for the ten million won. But a horrible complication ruins their plans and things begin to spiral out of control as the girl's father (Song Kang-ho) decides to take matters into his own hands with the help of a sympathetic cop.