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DVD Review: Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy

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Park Chan-wook's "Vengeance Trilogy" has been extremely successful for Tartan's Asia Extreme line. Over the years numerous editions have been released, but in all honesty none of them hold a candle to Tartan's latest collection of all three films. Consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, the Vengeance Trilogy is brutal in its execution and a downright gorgeous collection for fans of the films.

Each movie in this trilogy will get into your head, hit you at the core, and undoubtedly leave some audience members disturbed. Park Chan-wook has a dark vision that is truly unlike any other, but the appeal of these vengeful pieces lies within the emotional drama more than in the grotesque violence. The scripts are marvelously written, the acting is top notch, and the direction is visionary in some instances. I say that not just about one film here, but all three.

The first movie we'll talk about is Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This film was the first in Mr. Park's lineup and is a nice place to start, though I use the word "nice" loosely. Sympathy follows the exploits of a deaf mute named Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) who is working hard in a factory to save up enough money to pay for his sister's kidney transplant. Time is running out as she gets sicker, and there just isn't a donor to be found. Desperate and perhaps a little naïve, Ryu heads to the black market in search of a kidney. Unfortunately for the green-haired protagonist, all he finds is a drug addict who steals his kidney and leaves him naked in a parking garage.

With his money stolen and his kidney taken, Ryu struggles to figure out a way to help his sister, especially when the news comes along that the hospital found a suitable kidney and only requires the money he was saving to do the operation. Ryu's girlfriend talks him into kidnapping as a means to an end, and his former employer seems like the perfect target. Things just go from bad to worse as Ryu and his girlfriend find themselves on the receiving end of some harsh vengeance.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a tragic film. In many ways it personifies the idea that good intentions only pave the way to hell, and sometimes an eye for an eye isn't exactly the right kind of justice. Ha-kyun is brilliant as Ryu and you truly get a sense of his emotions and desperation despite the fact that he never utters a word. Surrounding him is a cast of actors that all do an equally fantastic job. Fantastic writing, incredible acting, and some scenes of intense violence truly make Sympathy one of the most unique films you'll ever see.

The second film in this collection, Oldboy, takes the vengeance game to a whole new level. In this piece a man, Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), is imprisoned as part of a revenge plot for 15 years by a person unknown to him. During his time in captivity he's broken, loses everything, is hypnotized, and brutalized quite often. Eventually he plots his escape and it's the only thing that keeps him motivated and prevents him from going completely insane.

Once he gets out of captivity things just get stranger as he meets and falls in love with a young female sushi chef, Mi-do, and begins to pick up clues about where he was imprisoned and who kept him there. Like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy is downright visceral with some moments of intense violence as Oh Dae-su fights his way through throngs of bad guys. He's been turned into a monster and a broken human being, and it's utterly captivating watching him try to cling to what remaining shred of humanity he has. Questions about his captor and his love for Mi-do are pretty much all he lives for at this point, and the film passes along a powerful sense of desperation as it runs toward its tragic conclusion. For his part Min-sik Choi turns in one hell of a powerful performance and that, combined with Park's direction, truly make Oldboy special.

The final part of this trilogy, Lady Vengeance, stands out for reasons completely different from the other two. For starters this film features a female protagonist and the pacing is much slower, allowing the plot to build and build as new pieces are added to the puzzle. Another element to the film is a quirkiness that just stands out. It's almost dreamlike in nature with some downright bizarre imagery. At the start of the film we're introduced to Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) who is a recently paroled kidnapper convicted of murdering the child. She spent the last 13 years in jail and begins slowly setting the stage for revenge.

The pieces come together in a rather fascinating way with flashbacks to her time in jail as the film introduces us to some of the characters that knew Geum-ja. I'll leave the details of her revenge out of this review, because it's the culmination of the film's efforts that make it as effective as it is. Lady Vengeance is an emotional piece with some very well-developed characters. It's not as gritty as its counterparts, and yet at the same time the tone toward the end really makes an impact on you.

All three films in the Vengeance Trilogy are presented on DVD in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The films claim to have been enhanced for anamorphic playback, which is true for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, but Lady Vengeance's aspect ratio is a little messed up. The picture is letterboxed and squished to a point, so viewers will have to adjust with their TV's settings in order to get it to the proper ratio. Beyond that snafu the quality here is very good on all fronts. Each film in the trilogy features sharp resolution with crisp details, vibrant colors, and few flaws. The occasional hint of noise and compression can be spotted from time to time, but those moments are fleeting at best.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is presented with Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Oldboy comes with Korean and English languages with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1, and Dolby 2.0 stereo. Lady Vengeance is presented in Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. All three films come with English and Spanish subtitles. As far as the quality is concerned the trilogy nails the soundstage with some fantastic audio. Dialogue, sound effects, and music all ring through loud and clear with an appropriate LFE and use of all channels. There's a great sense of immersion at times, with the highlight being the hallway fight in Oldboy.

The set is also packed to the gills with bonus features. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance comes with an audio commentary featuring Director Park Chan-wook and actor/filmmaker Ryoo Seong-wan. The second disc includes "The Process of Mr. Vengeance", "My Boksu Story", "Crew Interviews", "Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-wook", "Soundtrack & Photos", "Storyboards", an original behind the scenes featurette, and some trailers. The best of these features is easily the behind the scenes offering, with "Process" coming in a close second. The rest are rather lightweight in terms of content.

Oldboy comes with three discs that include three audio commentaries, all of which include Park Chan-wook with two featuring other folks involved on the film from the cast to crew. The second disc packs in cast and crew interviews, a selection of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a featurette entitled "Le Grand Priz at Cannes" and five behind the scenes documentaries: Making the Film, Production Design, The Music Score, CGI Documentary, and Flashback. These are worth checking out, but none of them hold a candle to the massive three-hour video diary on the third disc entitled "The Autobiography of Old Boy."

Lady Vengeance doesn't skimp on the bonus material either as the first disc features three commentary tracks. The second includes an alternate version of the film entitled "Fade to White", which is a reference to the tofu cake offered to Geum-ja at the beginning with optional commentary tracks. The third disc contains the majority of the supplemental content with "Making of Lady Vengeance," which includes a making of featurette and a press kit to accompany it. There's also a section called "Style of Lady Vengeance" which looks at the visualization, production design, costume, makeup, art, and computer graphics that were used. Some deleted scenes are included as well as some trailers, character interviews, and a feature called "Lady Vengeance in Venice" which is basically a video that follows Park Chan-wook and Lee Young-ae as they head to a film festival in Venice.

From top to bottom, the Vengeance Trilogy is one hell of a release and Tartan deserves a lot of praise for the work they put into this collection. The vast amount of special features for each film takes hours to go through, the transfer for the trilogy is solid (aside from the aspect ratio on Lady Vengeance) and the quality of the movies stands out on its own. While not for the faint of heart Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance are in a league all their own. Put together, this collection truly is a force to be reckoned with.

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About Todd Douglass

  • Troy Mayes

    I freaking love Old Boy, as you said it really gets inside your head and the hallway fight is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I really want to see the other two in the series and it’s great they’ve released them together