Chan Wook Park is what I was told to call him by imdb, so that is what I am going with, even though the poster above goes a different way and other reviews try still more variations. In any case Korean director Chan Wook Park doesn’t make “easy” films, and he definitely doesn’t bother with anything straightforward and simple such as sticking with one name, for example.
This is the first film in a brilliant trilogy, even if the third chapter is a step below the preceding two films. (I’m licking my lips about getting to Oldboy!)
Rather than go through and bullet point the goings on I’ll identify the three core characters in the film, as the plot is so intricate and interwoven that I’d only get lost.
Ryu – A deaf and dumb foundry worker. He lives with his sister who desperately needs a kidney transplant, only no donor organ is available and things look grim.
Young-Mi – Ryu’s girlfriend. A radical and opinionated protestor who claims to be part of a terrorist group.
Kang Ho-Sun – A well to do factory owner (where Ryu works) who is nonetheless experiencing harsh financial times. A single dad whose daughter Yoosun becomes a pivotal character.
With those three at the core Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is a cinematic vicious circle of depressing irony and inconvenient circumstances. Although everyone involved have the best intentions, or at least mean no harm, they ultimately end up inadvertently fucking over (and being fucked over) by others, usually with violent, undeserved and sad results.
These kick off due to Ryu’s pursuit of a transplant kidney for his sister. When his well meaning search through the black market organ industry goes awry he resorts to an even more illicit plan to finance the operation… It should come as no surprise that this also does not go well, and one by one everyone else becomes inextricably involved in the spiral of unfortunate events, principally the three leads.
Those wronged in the film (which is nigh everyone) seek revenge and usually get it, but it is always hollow. Everyone is wrong at points, yet somehow no-one actually deserves what they actually get.
There is great violence (not great as in awesome either), torture, rape, knifings and murders occur with seemingly inevitable frequency. There are also scenes where the reality of the situation is taken perhaps a little too far, (I doubt that a father needs to be present at his daughter’s autopsy. Also I didn’t see the need to watch a cremation from inside the coffin).
Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. Occasionally a bit heavy handed and some visuals go too far for the sake of shock and awe. A depressing but undeniably powerful film featuring the blackest of black humour.