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.