Following the success that Korean director Chan Wook Park had with his tense military drama JSA: Joint Security Area, his backing studio gave him free reign on his next film. Park then went and made a film that was decidedly different from his previous outing. The resulting film was a gritty, touching revenge flick that is populated with people who all act out of love.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance follows Ryu, a deaf mute who loves his sister, who happens to be dying. She will die, unless she receives a much needed kidney transplant. Ryu cannot stand by any longer waiting for a donor and takes things into his own hands, sadly that leads him to black market organ traffickers. He is left without a kidney and stripped of his life savings. His girlfriend convinces him to kidnap the daughter of the wealthy businessman who had fired him earlier.
The plan is to hold her captive and extort the money needed for his sister’s operation and return the girl. They have no intention of hurting her, or even telling her that she has been kidnapped. Of course, nothing goes as it should. The characters spiral out of control as they all act on the love they have for someone else. The chain reaction starts as soon as Ryu makes that fateful decision to trade his kidney for a matching one to his sister.
I cannot say any more so as not to give it away. The payoff is well worth the trip. The film is so heartbreakingly tragic that I guarantee that you will be moved by what the characters go through. One of the most moving aspects is that, save for the organ traffickers, there are no “bad guys” in the traditional sense. It is true that some of the decisions made are not exactly the wisest, but they are acting on emotion, they are not thinking terribly rationally, but the love they have is the driving factor in their actions.
The acting is superb. Ha-kyun Shin’s portrayal of Ryu is great, he exhibits such an incredible range of emotion, never speaking a word. Kang-ho Song is Park Dong-jin , the businessman whose daughter Ryu kidnaps. There is a scene where he will bring you to tears. These two are the center of the film, their decisions drive the plot along its collision course of destruction.
Chan Wook Park is fast becoming one of the top names of international cinema. JSA proved that he could make a compelling film within a standard formula, that didn’t feel like a formula. Sympathy shows that he has a unique and original voice, the ability to craft a film free of the trappings that sink many attempts at originality. He displays restraint, allowing the tension to build to a point where it boils over in an explosion of violence. Everything is there for a reason, building character, plot movement, a maestro at work.
Video. The image is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. The image appears to be slightly to the washed out side, but it works for the movie. I am unsure if that was the original intent or not. There is plenty of detail and overall it looks good.
Audio. Three flavors are provided, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0, all in the original Korean. I listened using the Dolby Digital 5.1. I sounds good, the film is heavily dialogue driven and it is represented fine. No complaints.
Extras. There are a couple of extras here.
-Commentary. This track features the director. I did not listen to the track, as it is in Korean and you would have to choose which subtitles to watch, the film or the commentary.
-Original trailer. Exactly as it says.
-Behind the scenes. This is listed on the case, but I could not locate it on the disk.
-Preview of Lady Vengeance. A brief look at Park’s third revenge film.
-Tartan previews. Trailers for other Asia Extreme releases.
Bottomline. This is a fantastic film. Moving performances, intense story, it is a wonderful package that is wrapped up in a nice evenly paced film. Hard to believe he would outdo this with Oldboy. Park’s films keep getting better. See this movie!