Movie of the Day – Sympath for Mr. Vengeance
May 27, 2011 2 Comments
I have talked before about my general love of the revenge movie. Man on Fire was about exacting revenge when the thing that has given you a reason to love is stripped from you. That movie was a more in your face sort of revenge film with undertones of redemption. While the idea and theme of revenge in movies is not new, since you can find it in almost any movie out there, centering a movie on the central theme of revenge is interesting to me. To craft a movie where revenge permeates every characters motives and emotions, but also to tell a story about atonement, salvation and human limits.
There is a trilogy of movies out there that embody the aspect of revenge, but each movie in the trilogy has an underlying meaning to each of their movie. Park Chan-wook, a phenomenal South Korean director, created The Vengeance Trilogy, where each movies central theme is vengeance, but each tell a different tale of vengeance. In 2002, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance broke out into Korean theaters and made Park Chan-wook an essential power in the international cinema scene. This is the first of the trilogy and while not one of the more widely known of the trilogy, this is the start of something amazing.
The trailer set up the story briefly for you. We start the movie with Ryu, the central character of movie who is both deaf and mute. He works in factory to support his ailing sister who is in need of a kidney transplant. He is not a suitable donor for his sister and is later laid off from his job, which means that the money for medicine and treatment will run dry. Ryu contacts a black market seller of organs who agree to sell him a kidney for 10,000,000 Korean won and one of his kidneys. He agrees to this, but is then knocked out and the organ sellers took the money and his kidney. Angry that he was fired from his job and also robbed, he talks with his girlfriend Yeong-mi, who is a part of an anarchist group, and the two conspire to kidnap the daughter of the boss for fired Ryu. Instead, they decided that it would be very risky to steal the bosses daughter and decide to steal the daughter of a man who is friends with the boss.
They kidnap the little girl Yu-sun and Ryu takes her home with him an his sister, who reluctantly takes care of the girl while Yeong and Ryu acquire the ransom. Dong-jin, the father of Yu-sun, pays the ransoms and Ryu heads back home to find that his sister has killed herself. She uncovered what Ryu and Yeong planned to do and she realized that her illness has caused this burden. Distraught, Ryu takes her body and Yu-sun to the country side where the two frequent as children and buries her on the riverbank. While Ryu tends to the grave, Yu-sun slips and drowns in the river. Dong-jin, is filled with anger and sadness at the fact that his daughter was killed despite paying the ransom. He vows at her funeral that he will exact revenge for those that wronged him. A vicious cycle of violence transpire between Ryu and the organ donors, Dong-jin and Yeong-mi, and finally the culmination of conflict with Ryu and Dong-jin.
I will say that there will be spoilers in regards to the last half of the movie, particularly with the violence that takes place between the main characters. It is hard not to touch on what they do and how it shapes the movie.
To me, the movie was about the consequences of our actions and the fate that befalls us regarding our actions. Think of it like karma and coming full circle. The act of revenge is the driving point to this theme where each character must face the consequences of their actions. Ryu’s sister kills herself because of what her illness had inadvertently caused. The kidnapping of a child and the ransoming was too much for her to deal with and ends her life as a result. Ryu blames the ogran thieves for the cause of his problems, since if it went as planned, his sister would be alive and there would be no need for him to exact revenge. Every action in this movie, the motive for the characters revenge, is all related to one another indirectly. The stealing of the organ and money, the firing from the job, the kidnapping and accidental death all feed into one another. This in turn fuels each characters rage and leads them to vengeance.
To portray the emotion of revenge, extreme violence is used as the vessel for revenge. Each character ultimately meets a rather gruesome (I do mean gruesome) demise. While I have talked about violence being used for more shock value and no substance, Park Chan-wook uses violence in an extremely visceral way. I think what makes the violence so effective is through the character of Ryu. While he is a deaf and mute, he can’t really express verbally his anger. What you get is pure, raw emotion and physical manifestations of what he can’t verbally communicate. The violence that he extracts from the organ thieves is disturbing. I felt uneasy watching him viciously killing the underlings. While Ryu takes his revenge, he also the victim of Dong-jin’s revenge near the end of the movie. Since he can’t talk, Dong-jin can never get a real answer for what happened. That angers him even more since he can never truly know what happened with his daughter, other than she died under his care. The final act of violence on Ryu is the most cruel part of the movie and while Ryu dies, so does the closure that Dong-jin wants.
I’ve said that this movie is the about the consequences of our actions that we take. Dong-jin is not immune to this since the final scene of the movie shows that he too must answer for his actions. I won’t say who or how his consequence is played out, but it ties the movie together. While the movie is incredibly violent, it serves its purpose. Yes the violence is shocking, but it is the only way to really portray such a strong emotion like revenge. Park Chan-wook doesn’t let the violence overtake the movie as it serves two purposes, one is to visually show the emotion of revenge. Second, the use of violence is the end consequence of our actions. An eye for an eye seems fitting at a time like this.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not only violent, but a beautifully shot movie. While minimalistic in camera use, Park Chan-wook frame and centers every scene, putting the spotlight on the characters. Chan-wook has such an amazing eye for detail and pacing that you forget you are watching a movie with little camera movement. The music and pace works well in propelling the movie and keeping us on edge as to what will unfold in front of us.
This is part one of a three-part movie of the day. I will be covering the remaining two films in the trilogy on Saturday and Sunday. If you want to get ahead of the curve, all three movies of the trilogy (Oldboy and Lady Vengeance) are available on Netflix Instant Streaming.