Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 8th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: South Korea, March 29th, 2002
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writers: Jae-sun Lee, Mu-yeong Lee, Yong-jong Lee, Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin,Du-na Bae, Ji-Eun Lim
DVD released: February 28th, 2005
Approximate running time: 121 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS-ES 6.1 Korean, DTS-ES digital surround 6.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex Korean
DVD Release: Tartan
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal
Retail Price: $31.95
Synopsis: 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. Vengeanceis 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.
Tartan presents Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The box art incorrectly lists the films aspect ratio as 1.77:1 even though it displays during playback in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors look vivid and flesh tones look natural. Black levels remain strong through as the image exhibits an exceptional amount of detail in every frame. There are no problems with compression or edge enhancement and the transfer overall is in exceptional shape. There is one minor set back in that the image appears to NTSC to PAL conversion that at times leads to blurring of the image.
This DVD comes with three audio options DTS-ES 6.1, DTS-ES digital surround 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex surround. All three audio mixes are presented in the films original Korean language. For this review I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex surround which has razor sharp dialog and the action sounds robust through out. The music and effects sound evenly mixed with no problems with distortion or any other defects. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand. There are few moments in the film with Korean text appears on the screen that have not been translated into English.
Extras include the films original trailer as well as trailers for Oldboy, Battle Royale 2, Internal Affairs 1, Internal Affairs 2 and a Tale of Two Sisters. All these titles are currently available through Tartan.There are also some liner notes written by Jamie Russell about Park Chan-wook and the film. Other extras included a thirty minute making of documentary that mostly consists of behind the scenes footage. There are a few interviews included in this documentary unfortunately it is nothing more then fluff. Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary with Park Chan-wook and Seung-wan (even though the box art only lists Park Chan-wook’s name). Both directors have plenty to say as they keep things moving and interesting through out. The audio commentary is in Korean and English subtitles have been included. While I am not usually a fan of audio commentaries in a foreign language that require subtitles to understand them this track is well worth the extra amount of time required to listen to it. Tartan has put together an amazing special edition DVD for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance that every fan of Park Chan-wook and this film can proudly display in their collection. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a dark film that asks its viewer to care for individuals who are doomed from the outset. Most viewers may find this film challenging while others will revel in its excesses, highly recommended.