Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Genre: Crime Drama Thriller (South Korea)
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin
Directed By: Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance)
Overview: A deaf man gets double crossed by black marketers, and must resort to kidnapping to get the money he needs to pay for his sister's kidney transplant.
Acting: Given that I've seen Lady Vengeance, I may be biased in my assessment of this one. I mean this director is a man who was able to shake my blasé foundation and show me that I can still change my list of Top 5 Favorite Films. Having said that, those chosen for these roles are indeed excellent, and for as much as this does not have the grand drama that allows for actors to bear their souls as purely, I'm hard-pressed to think how it could ever be done any better.
Cinematography: The Gus Van Sant influence is unmistakable, but Mr. Park manages to keep his own gorgeous and artistic photography well within the realm of the tale being told. By that I mean that unlike Gus whose visual trek touches the more experimental, Park embraces the story and frames it within a museum-class art show of photographic genius. Yes, you will be constantly reminded that this is shot differently, that this is art-house, but the magic is that you're still deep in the story, and not just some visual spectacle.
Script: The writing is such that the tale is told clearly, yet intermingled with moments of mildly surreal dialogue. Story elements flow strangely from time to time due to editing out of relatively important elements (like the missing kidnapping scene), but this, like Lady Vengeance does not feel the need to go and explain every little detail, allowing the action of it all to tell the tale itself.
Plot: This is an intricately rich tale about the best laid plans laid to waste, and I don't think I'm ruining the story for anyone by telling you there's even a strong streak of vengeance here. The best part of the story, though, is that this is more than just a story about a guy pissed off and getting even like Park's other films in the trilogy (Oldboy and Lady Vengeance) it's several vindictive people trying to chase their hate-on to its bitter end. Having multiple layers like this is what makes a story special, worthy of being told, and the surprise lies not in guessing if the hero wins or not, it's finding out how many of the characters get closure.
Mood: This story isn't for everyone. I will admit for once that art-house has a way of shunning the mainstream crowd. For most, the left brain is the more developed of the two sides and this plays heavily on the right. There are moments that aren't covered, (obvious as they are it's still a jolt to see an essential scene missing), and though the story is well made in every sense, it's bleak, which is more of the thing that people tend not to like, though art-house lovers and fans of the darker sides of storytelling, like myself, will find in this a wonderful example of what this genre of film truly is.
Overall Rating: 90% (You get More Than My Sympathy, Mr. Park...)
Aftertaste: There's a Deus Ex Machina that appears for the first time in the scene above, whose official title is "retarded boy at river". Besides being a surreal and strange Lynch-esque moment of outright oddity, this severely palsied fellow who interferes at the best / worst times seems an obvious symbol of the twisted God who allowed these people's lives to go so wrong. This powerful symbol of karmic fate, pitiable as he is, is rejected instead of cared for when introduced, and much like the God our deaf man (another apt symbol) rejects, he casts him out only to face severe consequences when a little attention and patience would have helped, again, like God.
Mr. Park, you're awesome.