Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (South Korea, 2002) is laced with deadpan humor around the edges but there is nothing ironic in the title.
Shin Ha-kyun plays the desperate deaf-mute desperate to save his sister (Doona Bae), who needs a kidney transplant. He resorts to kidnapping after he’s robbed by black market organ pirates and Song Kang-ho is the corporate CEO whose kidnapped daughter dies in his care. Both of these men are driven by vengeance to undertake blood-soaked odysseys that finally converge and collide.
Park is neither glib nor pedantic as he charts the vicious circle that leaves victims in their wake, both unintentional and premeditated, and takes its dehumanizing toll on his increasingly brutal heroes. Park’s deliberate direction is full of serene scenes and lovely images for a film so full of violence and death, and his sympathy for both men is sincere. That may be the only real irony of the film.
It became the first in Park’s vengeance trilogy, followed by his breakthrough film Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005).
Rated R, in Korean with English subtitles
Streaming on Criterion Channel and MUBI for a limited time. Add to My List on Criterion Channel or to My List on MUBI or stream free on Kanopy, which is available through most public and college library systems.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance [Blu-ray]
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance [DVD]
Vengeance Trilogy [Blu-ray]
The Blu-ray and DVD releases feature director commentary and an English language profile of Park Chan-wook (made for British TV by Jonathan Ross) among the supplements.