Movie #159 2020: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Theme of the week is trilogies, apparently.

Off the back of finishing the trio of movies in the Cornetto Trilogy, I begin with a new one. Aptly named ‘The Vengeance Trilogy’, this is a trio of horror/thriller movies from Korean director, Park Chan-wook, whose outstanding movie The Handmaiden has already been reviewed here on TQR.

Like the Cornetto Trilogy, these movies can be viewed in any order as they don’t really relate to each other in story line. But – me being me – I’ve decided to do them in order of release date anyway. So here we go with the first of the three, which is Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.

A quick summary of the plot – without giving too much away, of course – is as follows. A young deaf and dumb man works in a manufacturing plant of some description, when several strands of corruption are revealed in regards to the plant’s owner. With the help of his girlfriend (played by Cloud Atlas’ Doona Bae) he hatches a plot to kidnap the boss’ daughter in return for a ransom payment. Things then, not surprisingly, take a turn and their plan is thwarted.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the entire thing, but just know this: there are themes of torture, death, and murder throughout.

Weirdly – and this has nothing to do with the fact that the movie is Korean – it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on. There’s not much backstory other than the movie’s opening scene, and you as the viewer are simply thrust into the middle of this world. It’s more than likely that I was just too stupid to figure out the mechanics of the plot until about thirty minutes in, but after that, the storytelling was your typical levels of Korean movie brilliance.

Despite the (eventually) gripping story, sadly I found the whole thing too long. As so many movies do, this film falls victim to the idea that there’s not enough content to fill the time allotted, therefore making some of it a little bit snoozy.

However, the cinematography in Mr. Vengeance is so good that it’s borderline annoying. Annoying in that ‘I am jealous of what you have achieved here’ kind of way. There are certain sequences which entail a few simple shots of three characters walking up staircases that were just fantastic, and the best shot of the entire movie comes via an overhead frame, in which there is a haze of scarlet flowing through the lake. Both of these would be stand-out shots in any movie.

Maybe it’s just my poor patience, but I expected more action in the first half of this movie. The way people speak about this trilogy (despite many regarding this one as the weakest of the three) made me expect too much, it seems. Thankfully, the later scenes in the lake and then on the roadside were so intense and brutal that it made up for any prior tediousness for me. It’s worth watching the entire movie purely for the conclusion – a very satisfying one indeed.

Song Kang-ho (Parasite, A Taxi Driver) continues to impress, as do the majority of the cast. Director Park Chan-wook does the revenge genre justice too, which just happens to be one of my favourite cinematic themes. Overall, though I wasn’t taken aback by this one, I’m still excited to see Oldboy, the second instalment in the trilogy, due to his excellence.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is available to stream on the BFI Player in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

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