Sympathy For Mr Vengeance


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Sympathy For Mr Vengeance
"Korean sensibilities have dispensed with their protective shield."

For young Korean directors to take their cues from radical Japanese action pictures would be understandable. The fact that they don't, indicates a confidence in Seoul that is invigorating for moviegoers. The legend of hard-boiled is exactly that, a legend, and, as such, irrelevant to 21st century innovation.

Writer/director Park Chan-wook has an exciting style. He dispenses with traditional aids, such as easy-to-follow plot development, in favour of visual shorthand which makes assumptions that the audience is two steps ahead and doesn't need reminding. As a result, rather than a smooth running two hour thriller, it feels like a three hour movie cut back.

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As the title suggests, revenge is the driving force. A nutshell synopsis speaks of kidnapping, accidental death, a manhunt, which is typical of straight-to-vid B-pictures. The way Park tells it, however, is so far beyond the norm that it crashes through the wall of fashionable tradition to a place of genuine originality.

The plot has a complex structure. Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is deaf and dumb. His sister (Lim Ji-eun), who has always looked after him, is in desperate need of a new kidney, but their blood types are different. His girlfriend, Young-mi (Bae Doona), belongs to a radical political group and thinks like a terrorist.

Ryu loses his job, is robbed of his severance pay and has one of his kidneys removed without his knowledge. Young-mi decides that kidnapping the daughter of Dongjin (Kang-ho Song), a rich businessman, and demanding a ransom would be ethically acceptable, considering that workers are exploited by their bosses on a regular basis.

The little girl appears happy with her captors until tragedy strikes and Dongjin sets out to find those responsible. Scenes of violence and torture are graphic. Korean sensibilities have dispensed with their protective shield.

This is not exploitative, neither is it entirely realistic. The actors undergo physical abuse, possibly simulated, although, due to their skill and commitment, still feels chilling to watch.

Park's talent is for cinema, not gratuitous bloodletting. After Shiri and now this, the Korean experience becomes ever more exciting.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2003
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Sympathy For Mr Vengeance packshot
South Korean tale of kidnap and revenge, with torture and violence thown in. Now out to own as part of the Vengeance Trilogy box set.
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Heimdal ***1/2

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Lee Jae-sun, Lee Mu-yeong, Park Jong-yong, Park Chan-wook

Starring: Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Lim Ji-eun

Year: 2002

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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