Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

Boksuneun Naui Geot | 2002 | South Korea | Directed by Chan-wook Park

Logline: A businessman seeks revenge for the botched kidnapping of his daughter by a disgruntled former employee and his girlfriend.

Park is best known for his masterful revenge thriller Oldboy (2003), which is the middle movie in what is now referred to as his “vengeance trilogy”. The first movie’s original title, Boksuneun Naui Geot, translates roughly as "Vengeance is Mine", but it was re-titled Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance for its American/international release. Apparently Park prefers the Western title, but I think his original Eastern title is much more appropriate, especially once you’ve viewed the movie, and taken into account the complexity of its multiple takes on the act of revenge. Like Oldboy, this is a powerhouse thriller pulsing with a visceral intensity and packed with stunning imagery.

Needing money for a vital kidney transplant that will save his sister’s life, Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf mute, and his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Doona Bae) kidnap a wealthy divorced businessman’s only daughter in order to extort a ransom. When Ryu’s sister (Ji-Eun Lim) discovers that the young girl they’re “babysitting” has actually been kidnapped she acts in extreme protest, much to Ryu’s despair. Then the situation goes from tragic to double-whammy tragic, and the businessman, Park Dong-Jin (Kang-ho Song) seeks retribution.

This is vengeance as rite of passage riding shotgun with Murphy’s Law. Ryu tries to donate his own kidney to his sister, but his blood type is not compatible with hers. When Ryu is fired from Ilshin Electronics, he meets a black market dealer of human organs, but the criminals propose that he give them his kidney plus ten million to obtain a kidney suitable for his sister. Ryu accepts the trade, but he does not have money to pay for the surgery. His lover, Yeong-mi, who fancies herself as an anarchist revolutionary, is the one who convinces him to kidnap Yossun, the daughter of his former employer, the businessman Park, who owns the electronic company.

There’s also a retarded young man (Seung-beom Ryu) who turns up at the river where Ryu buries his sister. The physically disabled man complicates matters when he interferes. But later he provides Park with key information, via a necklace, the who and where, responsible for the death of his daughter. There is also Yeong-mi’s terrorist friends, the young circle jerks, living in the tiny apartment next door to Ryu and Yeong. They play their cards late in the game.

Chan-wook Park is a consummate visual storyteller, his mise-en-scene and composition is brilliant, as is his use of sound. He amply displays all the ingredients for compelling, provocative cinema. Morality is treated as both hero and villain, and extreme violence is par for the course; everyone is victim, everyone is perpetrator. Park elicits dynamic performances from his core cast, and as far as his finale is concerned, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.