Pros: Excellent characters, original concept, complex, unique.
Cons: One minor plot hole bothered me.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance was the first in the Vengeance trilogy from Korean Director Chan-wook Park. I saw this film last, which would make it a prequel of sorts. However, each film stands on its own merit with its own set of characters. The Korean name for this film is Boksuneun naui geot.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance tells the story of Ryu (Ha-Kyun Shin) a "deaf and dumb" factory worker. Ryu is very close with his sister (Ji-eun Lim) who is in dire need of a kidney transplant. Ryu wants to donate one of his kidneys to his sister but has the wrong blood type. In the process of trying to find a kidney for his sister, Ryu manages to lose one of his kidneys and his life savings. When an opportunity arises for the transplant, Ryu becomes desperate for money and develops a scheme with his girlfriend Cha-yeong Mi (Du-na Bae) to kidnap a little girl in order to use the ransom money for the transplant.
Things go horribly wrong for Ryu, who seems to be a good-hearted person at his core. He has lost his job, a kidney and his severance pay. His sister is dying and in need of a kidney, which is available for the right price. His kidnapping attempt fails miserably. While Ryu seeks his revenge, the little girls father, Park-dong Jin (Kang-ho Song...who was exceptional in the recent Thirst release from Chan-wook Park) has his own agenda for revenge. In the end, it seems that the main course is violence and everyone at the table gets a healthy serving (with a dose of cold noodles to wash it down).
The plot is intricate and well designed, which is what has attracted me to Chan-wook Park's work. Park was assisted in writing this film by Jae-sun Lee, Jong-yong Lee and Mu-yeong Lee. Park likes to introduce plenty of characters that are atypical. His characters are often disturbed in some way, which adds interest. Sometimes these characters take bit parts but assist in tying together loose ends. In this case, the main character conducts a kidnapping, but manages to win the audience over with his general likability. The converging plot lines and quick sequencing can be confusing at times, especially with the translation (which misses some of the written queues) can be difficult to follow at times. The film finds creative ways to kill people, completing the task contextually, brutally and with a high degree of originality.
There was one plot issue that I had, that really bothered me. This film would be a five star film if not for one major mistake in the story line that was glaring enough for me to be bothered by it. There is a photograph depicting a small girl wearing a necklace...it is a piece of information that ties elements of the plot together. However, the audience was there when the picture was taken...and the little girl was not yet wearing the necklace when the picture was taken. That fact bothered me enough to deduct one star. For such a well constructed plot, a minor issue like that should not have been overlooked.
The Motion Picture Association of America hit Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance with a well deserved R Rating. I normally give war violence a minor pass...especially when it is contextual. The violence in this film exceeds my normal limitations. Aside from some gruesome gore-filled scenes, the film had strong sexual content to include a sex scene and a group masturbation scene. Strong language, death and suicide were all prevalent themes as well. I would not allow anyone in their pre-teens or early teens to watch this film.
I enjoyed Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. This film completes the trilogy for me. I enjoyed watching the plot develop, the array of interesting characters interact and the unique dialogue. Although the complexity and quick scene cuts (combined with keeping up with the translation) made following the film difficult at times, I managed to keep up with the action and went for a fun (yet violent) ride. William Shakespeare would love this stuff. Tragedy on steroids. Four stars out of a possible five.