A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002)

Ha-kyun Shin and Doona Bae in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Ryu: Ha-kyun Shin
Dong-jin Park: Hang-ko Song
Yeong-mi Cha: Doona Bae
Ryu's Sister: Ji-eun Lim
Yu-sun: Bo-bae Han

Director: Park Chan-wook*
Screenplay: Park Chan-wook, Jae-sun Lee, Jong-yong Lee, Mu-yeong Lee
Cinematography: Byeong-il Kim
Production design: Jung-hwa Choe

I watched Park Chan-wook's "vengeance trilogy" inside-out: first the middle film, Oldboy (2003), then the third, Lady Vengeance (2005), and finally the initial film in the series, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. The order doesn't really matter, because it has become clear to me that what Park has given us is not just, as some have suggested, an updated version of the Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedies like Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, but a vision of hell, especially if you adhere to the idea advanced by Sartre that hell is other people. Park has a way of populating his stories with nightmare figures that play no essential role in the plot, like the dudes in the next room who masturbate to the sound of Ryu's sister groaning in pain (which Ryu himself, being a deaf-mute, cannot hear), or the mysterious mentally and physically afflicted man who appears as Ryu is trying to cover his sister's body with stones and persists in trying to remove them until he's driven away, meanwhile distracting Ryu from the drowning Yu-sun. There's also the fired employee who stops Dong-jin Park's car and proceeds with a failed attempt at seppuku, heightening Dong-jin's feelings of guilt, perhaps, but not providing an essential element in the narrative. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is, I think, the least successful of the three films: It doesn't succeed in transcending the revenge motif the way Oldboy does with its echoes of Dostoevsky and Kafka, and it doesn't have the technical finesse of Lady Vengeance. Its chief virtue is, especially in comparison with Lady Vengeance, the relative straightforwardness of its narrative, with the added ambiguity of its title: Is Ryu or Dong-jin "Mr. Vengeance"? In fact, the film is less about vengeance than about guilt: Ryu's sister commits suicide because she feels guilty for the kidnapping of Yu-sun, and passes along the burden of guilt to her brother when Yu-sun dies, while Dong-jin is filled with remorse over the consequences of his business failure. Park Chan-wook's characters exist in a world where there's no escape from guilt and no hope for redemption. Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

*See footnote to Lady Vengeance

Watched on Filmstruck 

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