Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance review

What a painful film. Incredibly beautiful and brutal, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance just angers the viewer to the point of utter desperation. The whole film is tormenting as the characters engage you in the first five minutes and just repeatedly haunt you through cold violence and dark emotion. With a seemingly obvious departure from JSA, Park Chan-wook crafts a thematically similar work that deals with relationship, conflicting emotion, desperate situations but most importantly, vengeance.

Ryu, our blue haired, deaf and dumb protagonist needs a kidney for his sick sister. After an illegal organ deal gone bad and the chance donation of a suitable kidney, Ryu needs 10 million won in less than a week to pay for the operation. With the help of his activist girlfriend, they plot a “safe” kidnapping of his boss’s young daughter, but things take a turn for the worse spiraling into conflicting vengeance.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance takes the award for the most unfortunate sequence of events committed to a film. The mainstream current placeholder is Requiem for a Dream, which can’t compare in those terms to this moody tragedy. Think you’re having a bad week? Sit back, watch and either depress yourself extensively, or feel significantly better about your life.

The characters immediately hook you with poor Ryu just getting kicked around by his boss and his sister’s doctor. Things are merely getting started when he loses his transplant money in several physically and emotionally painful scenes for him. The characters grab you immediately and you can’t help rooting for them. Exploration behind all the characters’ motives always justifies their shady, ambiguous actions under harsh circumstances. Events may soon become predictable, but yet you wince at the thoughts and hope for a happy outcome.

Song Kang-ho follows up his two previous hits with a nice performance. It isn’t entirely effective as the script gives us a generally negative feeling about him, but he does offer explanation for his actions through his acting. The show stealer is Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu who arouses so much sympathy and comes across entirely convincing with the deaf role. He is absolutely perfect in revealing his emotion and thoughts using only his expressions and the occasional subtitles in conversation for his sign language. His girlfriend played by Bae Du-na fits very nicely as the tough but likable support for Ryu. Using seemingly little depth in the characters, the screenplay and acting performances are strong enough to carry the intensity of the film.

Park does it once again, technically matching Sympathy with the story. The camera is a noticeable departure from JSA as here; he uses the dead camera style for beautiful shot composition and images. It feels like Kitano as he presents powerful long or establishing shots that maintain the melancholy ambiance and then combines it with the intensity of painful close-ups. There are so many set-up shots that staged scenes so well, encompassing all the necessary elements. The only possible problem was the lack of a soundtrack as the closest we got to music was some 5-second crashing rock type music at key moments. They were quite effective, yet out of place due to the long gaps between them.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance comes highly recommended for a serious viewing. Emotionally powerful and sometimes a bit slow, it isn’t a breezy watch; it’s much more than that. Park really proves himself by moving in a different direction and creating something that he seems more passionate about than JSA. The film feels like a Takashi Miike one at times with the violence and offbeat characters, but is handled much more maturely and seriously to make a significant impression on the viewer and leave them thinking about the characters long after watching.


No comments: