Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
International - // Unrated // $25.95
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 10, 2004
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie

In Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (Boksuneun naui geot), nobody's getting away unscathed. South Korean director Chan Woo-Park's follow-up to his 2000 masterpiece Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA ) is a tale that demonstrates how the road to damnation is awash with moral ambiguity, in the midst of which you are simultaneously demonizing the "hero" while rooting for the "villain"... which is a feat within itself, given that these two archetypes are consistently in a state of flux.

The film begins with the introduction of Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin), a green-coiffed deaf mute who is caring for his ailing sister, who is in dire need of a kidney transplant. The donor list is utterly overbooked, and his search for a compatible donor has ended up as a wash. In desperation, Ryu sells one of his own kidneys on the black market with the promise of a compatible kidney for his sister, only to wake up cold, naked, and abandoned in an empty lot with his kidney gone and his side stitched up. To make matters worse, an accident at the plant where he works ends up in Ryu getting fired -- the very same week a compatible kidney is located for his sister. Having lost the money to pay for the operation, Ryu and his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (the stunningly beautiful Du-na Bae) concoct a plan to kidnap and ransom the young daughter of Park Don-jin (Kang-ho Song), the boss who fired him from the plant.

To put things mildly as possible, things do not quite go as planned. To say any more would be to give away too much about the story, which is utterly too compelling to spoil here. It is suffice to say that two characters end up gunning for vengeance, fueled by revenge and utterly disconnected from any conceivable life or joy whatsoever.Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance challenges the viewer to examine the situations that have enveloped both characters and the circumstances that have driven them down this path, and invites you to discover whether or not you can sympathize with either of them, both, or neither. Each character has what seem to be legitimate reasons for their actions... until you experience the violence, bloodletting, and brutality (both physical and emotional) that these characters submit to both themselves and others. How far is too far, and how much is too much? The film doesn't answer these questions, nor does it lionize their heroics or moralize against their shortcomings.

The film is unrelentingly brutal. There is enough blood, graphic violence, and gore to make even the staunchest of man-folk to turn their heads away in raw squeamishness (One character is tied to a chair and tortured to death with electric shocks, while the torturer casually watches while eating lunch. That scene will haunt me for weeks.) It's also exceptionally directed by Chan Woo-Park, who masterfully balances the warmth and humanity of the cast against their vengeance-fueled depravity. The three main leads - Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin, and Du-na Bae - are so believable in their roles and so endearing in their performances that the film successfully challenges you to find a single person behind whom you could morally support. By the end ofSympathy For Mr. Vengeance, you are left with only questions and a perhaps a lingering sense of futility. This film is dark, brutal, bloody, and excruciating, yet exquisitely shot and masterfully acted. It's also one of the best films of the new millennium.


Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is available as a full-blown, two-disc Region 3 Special Edition.


Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of approximately 2.28:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen-viewing acceptance. The overall quality of the image is quite pleasant, with solid color levels, deep contrasts, reasonable grain structure and smart image detail. I did notice some compression noise here and there, but overall the transfer was quite smooth and struck from a very clean print.


The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, as well as in a DD 2.0 track. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are rather impressive, with the DTS sounding more layered and dynamic. The film is mostly quiet and located frontstage, but there is effective and engaging use of the surrounds and LFE to aggressively open the soundfield when needed. Since the film is presented in its original Korean-language soundtrack, English subtitles are provided. However, be prepared for a few blatant grammatical goofs and spelling errors. These are very few and far in between, but they pop up. Nonetheless, this is a smart and engaging audio presentation of the film.


There are loads of extras on this two-disc set. Unfortunately, all of them are in Korean with absolutely no English subtitles whatsoever. Fans who aren't up-to-speed in understanding Korean are basically SOL. That includes me, your intrepid reviewer. I can tell you that Disc One contains an audio commentary track, while there are a plethora of featurettes on Disc Two. The section entitled "In Process of Mr. Vengeance" had 30 minutes of featurettes entitled Dactylology, Star Review, Special Makeup, and Cameo Role. "My Boksu Story" has more featurettes and filmographies, but their titles are in Korean. I can barely write in English, so you'll have to check it out for yourself. Staff Interview contains what appear to be... wait for it... staff interviews, as well as cast profiles. Finally, the extras are rounded off with some storyboards, audio clips, photo galleries, and trailers.

For an English-language breakdown of the extra material on this disc, check out Koreanfilm Weekly's review of the DVD.

Final Thoughts:

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is, simply put, a brilliant film. While a tiny handful of scenes could have used some tightening, this minor nitpick does not detract from what is one of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long while. Between this film, JSA, and Oldboy, Chan-Woo Park has established himself as one of the most preeminent talents in world cinema. The DVD is a mixed bag... not so much because it's of mediocre quality, but because it's apparently of amazing quality - if you speak Korean. At least the film is subtitled in English, which is truly this disc's selling point. Here's to hoping that a version of this two-DVD set will become available for English-speaking fans. But as this is bloody unlikely, grab your multi-region player and give Sympathy For Mr. Vengance your undivided attention.

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