Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Title: Boksuneun naui geot -aka- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Dir: Park Chan-wook
Tagline: Revenge Was Never This Sweet.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

It's not chronologically accurate, but like most people, I saw Oldboy first. Although not as stylistically cool as its successor, Vengeance is worth seeing. It is more straight-forward than Oldboy, a movie that likes to smack the viewer in the mouth (metaphorically, of course). But just like Oldboy, there is a cool story and plenty of wicked violence.

I do like how different the two films are. They are nothing alike, linked only by the director and a theme of revenge. Specifically both movies portray how vengeance spawns more vengeance. This film's characters are not quite as appealing as Oldboy's, though. Dae-Su Oh was so fascinating, whether as some drunk guy in a police station or as a revenge-bent prisoner. He had a twisted sense of humor that Vengeance's characters lack.

The fact that Vengeance's protagonist, Ryu, is deaf and dumb doesn't help. I didn't really care about him, but perhaps that was intentional? His anarchist girlfriend is more interesting - she acts as a sort of Lady MacBeth to him, encouraging his nefarious deeds. But Ryu has good reason to be desperate - his beloved sister is dying and cannot afford a necessary kidney transplant. He goes to great lengths out of love for his sister, and his actions provoke the vengeance of another man, who also does unspeakable things for someone he loves. You'll see what I mean.

Somehow Vengenance felt more slowly paced than Oldboy. I believe Park really honed his directing style in the follow-up, which felt more fresh and fast-paced (not to be confused with hyperkinetic). Consequently, I couldn't get into Vengeance as much. It moved along slowly at times. I can't really put my finger on it, but something drags it down just a bit. I believe a second viewing would do it more justice. I do think it is worth a watch, if only to see Park's growth as a director (or just enjoy some good ol' fashion Korean violence).

2009 Update: Finally saw this film for the second time, and just as I suspected, I loved it more. The movie is beautifully shot and has some moments I still can't get out of my head. It may not be as crisp as Oldboy, but it is now a close-second for my favorite Park film.