Sunday, February 12, 2006

SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE - violent yes, but beautiful also

After the massive success of JOINT SECURITY AREA, South Korean director Park Chan Wook could have pretty much done anything he wanted to. What happened was that he took a giant step into left-field with a bizarre movie called SYMPATHY FOR MISTER VENGEANCE. At the time, the movie tanked at the Box Office. Little did anyone know that it would become the first in a trilogy of highly acclaimed "vengeance" movies. Upon the release of the final movie in the trilogy, LADY VENGEANCE, I am taking the opportunity to have a look back at the first two films in the trilogy.

SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE is, despite the title, a "sweet" movie. Why so? Because it features a lot of characters who are emminently charming and empathetic. Chief among these is a young guy called Ryu. His sister is chronically ill and in need of an expensive kidney transplant. When Ryu is sacked by his boss, his girlfriend convinces him to kidnap the boss' daughter in order to win a ransom to pay for the transplant. Ryu's position is deeply sympathetic and remains so throughout the kidnapping. This the genius of Park Chan Wook. There is a lovely scene where the little girl is watching TV, balancing on Ryu's knees - so intimate and caring. Mad props have to go to the actor portraying Ryu - a character who is a deaf-mute - and so must be made sympathetic by means of facial expression and physical comedy. Unfortunately, at the handover, things go wrong, largely because of the appearance of a tragi-comic figure played by Seung-beom Ryu - the fantastic actor from CRYING FIST and ARAHAN. At this point, it is the little girl's father who becomes Mr Vengeance and the movie spirals into extreme violence that is photographed beautifully - a hallmark of Park Chan-Wook's work. The final scene at the lake is haunting, and more recent movies, such as HOSTEL, which rip off some of its most horrific content, fail to replicate the beauty of the original.

Overall, SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE is a violent and horrifying film. The real brilliance is to make the characters funny, original, credible and genuinely sympathetic. The movie is at turns bizarre and ridiculous, and yet beautiful and memorable. It is an amazing combination to have pulled off - and a recipe that was honed and perfected in each following film.


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