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"There are good kidnappings and bad kidnappings"

Title: Boksuneun Naui Geot
English Title: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Chan-wook Park
Release Date: 29th March 2002 (South Korea), 30th May 2003 (UK)
Runtime: 129 (South Korea), 121 (UK)

MAIN CAST
Ha-kyun Shin - Ryu
Kang-ho Song - Park Dong-jin
Du-na Bae - Cha Yeong-mi
Ji-Eun Lim - Ryu's Sister
Bo-bae Han - Yu-sun

PLOT OVERVIEW
Ryu is a deaf mute whose sister needs a kidney transplant desperately. Ryu's blood type does not match hers and he arranges with some dodgy organ dealers to give them his kidney and a large sum of money in exchange for a kidney for his sister. The organ dealers do a runner and Ryu is left with one kidney and no money. Shortly after this, a donor comes forward, but Ryu now has no money to pay for the organ.

Ryu is laid off from his job and he and his girlfriend (actually, their relationship is never really clear but they live together and have sex so girlfriend doesn't seem like a bad guess), Yeong-mi, hatch a plan to kidnap his old bosses daughter and get the money for the transplant. All goes well until the young girl accidentally dies while in their care (this was certainly never their intention).

The rest of the film is basically just everyone getting revenge on everyone else and can't really be adequately described in words.

REVIEW
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an odd film. Seemingly fairly normal for the first hour and a half (well, except for the scene with four youths masturbating to what they think is a couple having sex but is actually Ryu's sister writhing in agony on the floor (oh, and the guy who slashes himself five times with a stanley knife)) it suddenly explodes into an orgy of violent retribution in the last quarter. There are some seriously sick bits that would have the usual quarters reaching for their megaphones to proclaim the horrible degredation of good taste, but also has some truly heart-warming parts (the pre-accidental death kidnap bits in particular).

This is, I think, the first South Korean film I've seen and certainly the first by Chan-wook Park, but I get the impression that this is not a 'standard' South Korean movie and was met with a similarly shocked reaction in its homeland. Park's last movie, Joint Security Area was also given a fair international release (although I'm fairly sure it never reached UK or US cinemas) and was met with good reviews - and the mid age-range ratings imply much less in the way of violence.

I am not in any way squeamish or easy to shock and have seen and enjoyed a fair number of 'challenging' titles, but there were portions of this film that affected me in a way that I don't think any have before. It isn't even really what happens - late on there is a scene where Ryu takes revenge on the organ donors; he walks into a room in which one of them is raping what we assume is an unconscious 'donor' and proceeds to bash one of them in the skull over and over again with a baseball bat before felling the other and taking out their mother too. The events, while slightly 'out there', are not unlike what you would find in a handful of other titles, but it is the way Park portrays them that is so challenging - some parts are left to the imagination while others are shown in graphic detail.

I'm finding it quite hard to judge the acting, possibly because it's been nearly a week since I saw the movie, but also because I found it really hard to tell quite how good it was at the time. The fact that it's in Korean doesn't help, but I haven't had the same problem with other Far Eastern movies. This film has had a weird effect on me.

It is at no point clear who the 'Mr. Vengeance' we are supposed to have sympathy for is - it seems for the most part that Ryu's boss is the only guilt-free party but he kills at least one person completely unrelated to the kidnap plot and ends up dying himself. I personally sympathised with Ryu more than anyone else, but he is also clearly not without blame. Overall, if you have an open mind and feel that the sight of a girl pissing herself while being electrocuted through her ears is something you'd like to see, check out this movie. Otherwise, it may be best to stay away.

TRIVIA
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance appeared in Harry Knowles', of aintitcoolnews.com, top 10 movies of 2002 list.


Sources:
the revolutionary imdb.com

While watching Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (SFMV), I couldn't help recalling my own bitter memories of a tragic moment several years ago. A very dear female friend of mine was found stabbed to death and her body dumped in a hockey equipment bag behind a hotel. While her family grieved, my own grief got to the point where it degenerated into pure, unadulterated rage. That rage then further declined into murderous thoughts when they finally caught the bastard who did it.

During that time, I kept wondering whether it would be prudent for me to step into the courtroom proceedings and give that motherfucker his due, courtesy of me and Ginsu, regardless of the cost. To me, it just seemed like the only right thing to do, given the circumstances.

Which is where SFMV comes in. This movie brought that whole scenario rushing back to my mind. In the film, there are no truly evil people (other than the black market human organ thieves) - the main characters simply fall into a downward spiral as a result of unfortunate circumstances that befall them. Watching Ryu and Park make their swift and parallel moral decline due to their equal burning search for vengeance was heartbreaking because it made me realize how easy it could be for anyone to do the same.

It is mainly because of how that message was delivered by Park Chan-Wook that I highly recommend this fantastic film.

However, I must also point out the masterful direction, cinematography, and acting of SFMV. The director used a lot of long takes that offered up an entrancing look into the daily tribulations of Ryu - his work at the electronics manufacturing plant, his journey back home, his care for his ailing sister. While the movie moved in a slow pace, it wasn't to the point where it induced sleep. Quite frankly, I think too many people expected a nail-biter with lots of explosions and bodies. SFMV was obviously nothing like that - suspense came in the form of wondering what Ryu and Park were going to do to each other as it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that both were going to kill each other.

Violence came in a shocking manner. It wasn't so much the gore of bloodletting, which was not as extreme as some would have led you to believe. It was really the delivery of it after such a lull. Like I said above, you knew that violence was going to eventually happen but after getting used to ordinary citizens like Ryu and Park, it came as a shock that such individuals could be capable of delivering it in such fashion. When you combined the violence with the leisurely pace of the rest of the film, it played out almost like a Takeshi Kitano film.

As for the acting, Shin Ha-Kyun met the challenge of portraying Ryu with all emotions and thoughts solely through facial expressions and actions - a challenge that he met very well. Song Kang-Ho played out the role of Park just as well, starting off as a fairly happy and successful company president and gradually declining into a raging father. Bae Doo-Na portrayed Yongmi as a really annoying bitch at first but it became clear that her character was very important as a catalyst for everything and she did just fine.

In summary, SFMV comes highly recommended, if not for the jarring message that it delivers, then for its wonderful direction and characterization.

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