Written by: Michael Den Boer on March 22nd, 2010
Theatrical Release Dates: South Korea, March 29th, 2002 (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), South Korea, November 21st, 2003 (Oldboy), South Korea, July 29th, 2005 (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writers: Jae-sun Lee, Mu-yeong Lee, Yong-jong Lee, Park Chan-Wook (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Joon-hyung Lim, Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Park Chan-Wook (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin,Du-na Bae, Ji-Eun Lim (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang, Dae-han Ji (Oldboy), Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Su-hee Go (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)
BluRay released: March 16th, 2010
Approximate running times: 129 minutes (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), 120 minutes (Oldboy), 112 minutes (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 Korean (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), DTS-HD 7.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex Korean, Dolby Digital Stereo Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Stereo English (Oldboy),DTS-HD 5.1 Korean (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)
BluRay Release: Tartan Video/Palisades Pictures
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $59.95 (Best Buy exclusive)
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance: Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) has been working double shifts at work to help him accumulate enough money for his sister who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Unable to find a donor through regular channels Ryu takes all the money he has saved and purchases the kidney his sister needs through a black market organ dealer. Now broke he doesn’t have enough money for the doctor to perform the operation now that they have a kidney to work with. So Ryu and his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) concoct a plan to kidnap his rich bosses’ daughter and demand a ransom for her safe return. After the father pays off Ryu and his girlfriend they have every intention to return his daughter safely and sound. That is until something tragic happens which sets off a series of vendettas.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the first film in Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy followed by the second installment Oldboy. The final chapter in the “Vengeance” trilogy is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Director Park Chan-Wook is one of the hottest director’s currently working in Asian. He has almost single handedly rescued the foreign film industry that had in recent years fallen on hard times. Park Chan-Wook’s is doing what other director’s like John Woo did before him by taking a popular genre that has been worn out by all its familiar cliches by giving it a makeover that breathes new life into themes and ideas that has long since been considered irrelevant. His mastery of the cinema landscape rivals that of Leonardo De Vinci mosaic masterpieces or Ludwig Van Beethoven’s greatest symphonies. His camera movements never for the action that is taking place the camera merely observes life as it unfolds at twenty four frames per second.
The lead character in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a deaf mute and early on Park Chan-Wook establishes as sound design that helps the viewer empathize with this young man’s disabilities which also makes him a more sympathetic character. One scene that immediately comes to mind that showcases Chan-wook Park use of sound is takes place early on when a doctor is trying to tell Ryu about his sisters condition and when the camera cuts to his point of view the sound be muffled almost inaudible. To further emphasize the effect the camera pans outside where it is pouring rain and now we can’t hear any of the conversation. There are many such instances of manipulation of the sound through the film. Another instant that starts off using sound before ultimately using visual imagery for the payoff is when we hear the sound of what appears to be two lovers making a lot of noise upstairs. The camera moves throughout the house and stops at a room were four boys listen at the wall and jerk off. Then the camera pans through the wall to reveal that it was sexual encounter going on in this room, but that Ryu’s sister is rolling around in pain on the floor and screaming loudly.
The film takes time to establish is main characters before settling in the final act in which most of the acts of violence occur. Ha-kyun Shin approaches the part of Ryu with a childlike innocence that is a direct opposite of the kind of person he becomes as the film nears the end. Kang-ho Song as the grieving father Park Dong-jin is a hard character to get a hold of at first that is until he makes his transformation after the loss of his daughter. The revenge angle has been a staple since the beginning of cinema and after watching director Quentin Tarantino completely miss the point in the Kill Bill saga by going over the top one too many times. It is refreshing to watch a film like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance that keeps things more grounded and focuses on the character and not the spectacle. This film is relentless as the action never lets up the as the story progress to a surprise ending that left me cold. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a tour de force filled with brutal beatings, electrocutions and performances that elevate the story to a level that transcends most films. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an emotionally charge thriller that showcases many ideas and themes that director Park Chan-Wook would use to even greater effect in his masterpiece Oldboy.
Oldboy: Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) disappears into thin air one night outside of a phone and when he next awakens he soon finds out that is being held prisoner. After fifteen years of imprisonment Dae-su is released into the world he once knew with nothing more than a wallet full of cash and cell phone. Unable to recover any of his lost memories Dae-su forms a relationship with a young girl named Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang). A stranger calls Dae-su on his cell phone to inform him that the game isn’t over until he figures out when he was imprisoned for fifteen years and he gives Dae-su five days to discover the truth or the man of the phone will kill Dae-su’s new found love Mi-do. Will Dae-su put the pieces of the puzzle together before it is too late or will his quest for vengeance lead him down a more sinister path?
Oldboy is the second film in Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy. It is his follow up to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance with the final chapter in the “Vengeance” trilogy Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Just when you have thought that you have seen every imaginable reason for vengeance along in walks a movie like Oldboy that takes familiar themes and turns them on their head. Oldboy’s often bleak outlook is enhanced by its lead actor’s Min-sik Choi performances for the ages as the enigmatic Dae-su Oh. His acting chops are challenged throughout the film as this role covers a lot ground mentality and psychically. Early on we are introduced to Dae-su who at this point in the film is load and arrogant with no respect for others. As the film progresses Dae-su starts to gain his confidence only to come full circle to the shell of his former self. The film poses the question what possibly could any man do that would justify being imprisoned for fifteen years. Also a human beings the one thing that we all carve most is the company of others and loneliness is something we all dread. It is hard to say what it would be like to have everything taken away from you like your family and live in solitude for any extended period of time. As an actor Min-sik Choi had to do just this even though he had no way to research such feelings and in the end his performance is so powerful you began to believe his pain and suffering.
Park Chan-Wook continues to grow as a filmmaker and his sense of composition is second to none as each frame is a mini masterpiece. The film is filled with repetition as several images and characters actions are repeated albeit in slightly altered forms throughout. The casting of Ji-tae Yu as Woo-jin Lee at first might seem like an odd choice since he is fourteen years younger his rival in the film Min-sik Choi. It is precisely why this choice works so well because Woo-jin Lee should retain his youthful appearance while Dae-su who has been imprisoned should look older then he really is because of the ordeal he has been put through. Ji-tae Yu takes what could have been a minor part and makes it so much more with his subdued and often low key take on Woo-jin Lee. The final piece of the puzzle and the character that binds the tie is that of Mi-do who is played perfectly by Hye-jeong Kang.
One of my favorite moments in the film also has to do with a famous piece of music. It happens when Dae-su returns to the place where he was held captive. He finds the boss and duck tapes him to a chair while he removes his teeth with a hammer. During this scene Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” plays while Dae-su operates which helps make the scene even more painful to watch. The violence in Oldboy is done in way in which it serves the story instead of being done just for shock value which only makes it more powerful. There are so many great set pieces throughout the film that all somehow seem to top the previous one. Oldboy is an elaborated game of cat and mouse that plays out like a Greek tragedy. It is a visual feast for the eyes that I found stimulating and highly entertaining despite its dark subject matter.
Lady Vengeance (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance): After spending thirteen ½ years in prison for a murder she did not commit Geum-ja Lee seeks vengeance against Mr. Baek the man responsible for the murder she was convicted for.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance the final installment in Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy with the other two film’s that comprise this trilogy being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy. Park Chan-Wook raises the creative bar with each new entry in “Vengeance” trilogy. Visually Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is equally as impressive as Oldboy. Every moment in carefully crafted for maximum meaning and impact.
The films narrative inter-cuts present day with the back story for Geum-ja Lee and the main players in her life. The Geum-ja Lee character is the most compelling to emerge out of the three films which comprise Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy. Her quest for redemption/revenge while elaborate at times is a harrowing journey which all leads up to a climax rich in subtext. The films strongest moment is when Geum-ja Lee and the parents of the children who were murdered get their revenge against the man responsible for all their misery. Besides the films more violent moments the film does a superb job showing Geum-ja Lee kinder gentler side. This is most evident in the scenes in which she interacts with her daughter she has recently been reunited with.
The backbone of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is its lead actress Yeong-ae Lee in the role of Geum-ja Lee. Yeong-ae Lee perfectly captures the hopelessness of Geum-ja Lee quest for redemption. Min-sik Choi is cast in the role Mr. Baek who Geum-ja Lee wants vengeance against. Min-sik Choi who had previous played Dae-su Oh in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy is even more impressive in the role of the villain this time around. Just like its predecessor Oldboy the music in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance plays a significant role in conveying the characters emotions and motivations. Ultimately Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is a harrowing story about humanity and loss of innocence.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Colors look nicely saturated, flesh tones look healthy and black levels remain strong throughout. Grain looks natural and details look sharp throughout. Out of the three film’s included in this collection, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance makes the biggest leap from its previous home video releases.
This release comes with one audio option, DTS-HD 5.1 Korean. Removable English subtitles that are easy to follow and error free have been included. The audio sounds crystal clear, balanced and robust throughout. There is good channel separation which does a superb job complimenting the more ambient aspects of this film’s sound design.
OldBoy comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Tartan had previously released Oldboy on BluRay in 2007 and this transfer looks very similar to that transfer. Grain while present it is more pronounced in some scenes. Details generally look sharp, especially during close-ups. There are a few moments where the image looks a tad softer than it does for the majority of the film and this appears to be more in line with the film’s visual style than anything transfer related. Colors look vibrant, flesh tones look accurate and black levels remain strong throughout.
Oldboy comes with four audio options, DTS-HD 7.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex Korean, Dolby Digital Stereo Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 English and Dolby Digital Stereo English. Removable English subtitles that are easy to follow and error free have been included. All four audio mixes sound clean, clear and balanced. The two Korean audio mixes easily beat the two English audio mixes as they come off more dynamic and do a better job exploiting the more ambient aspects of the film’s sound mix.
Lady Vengeance (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Colors and flesh tones look accurate throughout. Grain looks natural, details look sharp and black levels remain strong throughout. Even though the improvements for this transfer may not be as pronounced as they are for the other two films included with this release. There is definitely an improvement in the amount of detail and the vibrancy of the colors.
This release comes with one audio option, DTS-HD 5.1 Korean. Removable English subtitles that are easy to follow and error free have been included. The overall quality of the audio is comparable to the audio mix for Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance.
Extras for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance include a trailer for the film (1 minute 47 seconds – letterboxed widescreen, in Korean with English subtitles), story boards (9 minute 57 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), a image gallery with music from the film playing in the background, two interview segments “Cast and Crew interviews” (40 minutes 3 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and “My Boksu Story Retrospective” (17 minutes 22 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), a segment titled “Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-Wook” where he discuss JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, (16 minutes 58 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), a behind the scenes documentary titled “The Process of Mr. Vengeance” (32 minutes 5 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and a audio commentary with director Park Chan-Wook and actor Ryoo Seong-wan, in Korean with English subtitles. The audio commentary is a detailed discuss about Park Chan-Wook’s film’s that is always entertaining and insightful.
Extras for Oldboy include a trailer for the film (1 minute 31 seconds – anamorphic widescreen), 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary with Park Chan-Wook, a segment titled “Le Grand Pix at Cannes” (8 minutes 49 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), cast & crew interviews (49 minutes 50 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), five behind the scenes documentaries “CGi Documentary” (7 minutes 6 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Flashback” (23minutes 34 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Making of the Film – The Cast Remembers” (10 minutes 55 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “The Music Score” (16 minutes 48 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and “Production Design” (13 minutes 12 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), a lengthy behind the scenes documentary titled “The Autobiography of Oldboy” (3 hours 29 minutes 37 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and three audio commentaries. The first audio commentary features Park Chan-Wook by himself were he discuss in-depth the film. This commentary is not as lively as the other two, still as always Park Chan-Wook offers up a wealth of insight. The second audio commentary features Chan-wook Park and the films Cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong. This commentary is the most technical of the three as its deals primarily with the aspects of making Oldboy. In the third and final commentary Park Chan-Wook is joined by members of the cast. This track is about having a good time and at times they participants drift off into discussions that border on the mundane. All three audio commentaries are in Korean and English subtitles have been included.
Extras for Lady Vengeance (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) are spread over two discs.Extras on disc one (BluRay) include Park Chan-Wook’s introduction to the fade of White version of the film (1 minute 22 seconds – anamorphic widescreen, in Korean with English subtitles) and three audio commentaries, the first audio commentary with Park Chan-Wook, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and art director Hyeon-seok Choi, the second audio commentary once again with Park Chan-Wook who this time is joined by actress Young-ae Lee and the third audio commentary with Richard Pena a film professor from Columbia University. The first two audio commentaries are in Korean with English subtitles and the third commentary is in English. The audio commentary with Park Chan-Wook, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and art director Hyeon-seok Choi focuses more on the technical aspects of the film, the audio commentary with Park Chan-Wook and actress Young-ae Lee is a laid back track that has a few interesting moments and the audio commentary with film professor Richard Pena is an insightful track that takes a more analytical look at the film.
Extras on disc two (DVD) include T.V. spots (38 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), a teaser for the film (1 minute 52 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), the film’s American trailer (1 minute 36 seconds – letterboxed widescreen, in Korean with English subtitles), a poster gallery with music from the film playing in the background (1 minute 39 seconds), deleted scenes (14 minutes 9 seconds – letterboxed widescreen, with commentary from Park Chan-Wook and Yeong-ae Lee), a segment titled “Lady Vengeance in Venice” (8 minutes 23 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), a segment titled “Get Together” in which Park Chan-Wook discusses the actors which appear throughout the “Vengeance” trilogy (9 minutes 25 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), cast & crew interviews “Lee Guem-Ja” (6 minutes 26 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Professor Baek” (6 minutes 39 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Prisoners” (5 minutes 21 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and “Families” (7 minutes 37 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and two documentaries “Style of Lady Vengeance” which is broken down into four separate sections “Visualization” (6 minutes 23 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Production Design” (8 minutes 16 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Costume & Make-up” (8 minutes 4 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles), “Special Art Computer Graphics” (6 minutes 57 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and “Making of Lady Vengeance” which is broken down into two sections “Making of Lady Vengeance” (10 minutes 44 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles) and “Lady Vengeance EPK” (28 minutes 6 seconds – 1.33:1 full frame, in Korean with English subtitles).
Each film comes in a BluRay amaray case and are housed in a tin box. Also included with this release is a booklet with liner notes about Park Chan-Wook and the “Vengeance” trilogy and a brief interview with Park Chan-Wook. Overall this is an exceptional release which gives all three films their best audio / video presentations to date and the wealth of extra content leave no stone unturned in regard to the production aspects of these productions, highly recommended.
Note: This release is currently only available at Best Buy and a wider release is planned for June 15th, 2010.