A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

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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