Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Review)
Park Chan-wook/Shin Ha-kyun/2002
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"...a haunting film, it'll stay with you long after its completion."

In order to raise money for his sister's kidney transplant, Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf-mute man, devises a plan to kidnap the child of Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), a seemingly wealthy company executive...

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance mainly follows Ryu as he, and his anarchist girlfriend, kidnap Dong-jin's child and hold her for ransom. Ryu has already been down and out, being previously laid-off and having his own kidney stolen, so he has a lot running on this plan. But, as one would expect, the plan falls apart in the worst way possible. The second half follows Dong-jin as he tracks Ryu, as well as Ryu as he tracks Dong-jin. This vicious trail of brutal vengeance leads to an equally devastating ending. It's a film where the less you know the better, so it may seem like a simple story from my description -- but it's not.

In fact, during your first viewing, you may find Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance to be a little on the convoluted and complicated side, especially during its first act. It takes a while to sink in and really hook the audience, but once it does, it never lets go -- it has a firm grip on your throat. The story is depressing and sad, with unfortunate event after another. It's just brutal in every which way. But, I think it makes it extremely effective. I've never felt more secure saying it: this is a haunting film, it'll stay with you long after its completion. There's a lot of suspense, dreadful tension, and some very bloody violence. Also, the characters are well-developed and interesting, with some gritty character arcs; this focus on character amplified the emotional story.

The acting is fantastic. Shin Ha-kyun doesn't have to say a word, yet you can recognize and understand his character -- that's an accomplishment. Song Kang-ho shares less screen time but delivers an equally impressive performance. The music doesn't have a strong presence, but works well in creating the atmosphere for the film. The film is shot beautifully, despite such a bleak subject, with some fantastic camerawork. Director Park Chan-wook, who also participated in the writing, masterfully crafts this vicious yet stylish revenge thriller; some of the writing could've been a bit more efficient during the first act, though.

Overall, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a masterpiece. It's a bleak and depressing revenge thriller that hasn't left my mind since my initial viewing years ago. During your first viewing, you may find some moderate flaws in its storytelling, but it gets better during the following viewings -- take it from experience. I may not be happy watching it considering the subject, but it's a film that I appreciate more and more every time I watch it.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, sex and nudity.

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