Posted: 10/24/2003


Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance


by Alexander Rojas

This DVD is available for purchase at

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There is much to be appreciated for a scene in a film where you know exactly what’s going to happen and the suspense itself haunts you until that moment is delivered. However, in the Korean film by Chan-wook Park, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, that moment is a harsh and gut-wrenching blow as several factors play out so brilliantly. I wont get into the details, but as one of the main characters who is deaf covers up one tragedy underneath a pile of rocks another one develops behind him in the distance as desperate shouts fall upon his deaf ears and the tragic karmic consequences persist.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance creates the impression of an anti-hero protagonist, but in this film, Mr. Vengeance can represent several characters acting out upon several layers of vengeance. A young deaf man, Ryu, is left desperately in need to find a kidney donor for is dying older sister after he is told that their blood types do not match and he cannot be a donor for her. His desperation leads him to an organ trafficking group that takes his money and then one of his kidneys without the promised kidney for his sister. He has no one else to go to but his long time friend/lover, Cha Yeong-mi, a young politically motivated extreme leftist who reinforces the films social/political commentary. She becomes enraged with Ryu when he is informed by the hospital that a donor has been miraculously discovered. However now he is broke and has a few days to make the payment for the transplant. This becomes the catalyst for the downward spiral and clash between two men that will alter their lives forever.

A kidnapping plot develops between Ryu and Cha under the impression that it is justifiable because of the social injustices and class oppressions they endure. They decide to kidnap Ryu’s ex-boss’s daughter in an attempt to hold her for ransom and pay for Ryu’s sister’s much immediately needed operation. The kidnapping is successful, as they manage to receive the money they demanded, but an unexpected tragic event renders everything pointless and sets off the many acts of vengeance in this story. Ryu and the kidnapped daughter’s father, Park Dong-jin, are driven to their limits as the environment they fall victims to pit them against each other and to their own tragic actions.

The world of Mr. Vengeance is one of despair and desperation. The children themselves are mostly aware of the turmoil their parents are experiencing, while others are dying from the poverty that their parents are unable to overcome. The cartoons the kids watch appear to be experiencing much of the frustration and turmoil inherent in this world, as one of the main characters and a cartoon character are shouting out in agony simultaneously. This moment captures the dark and humorous tone Park has developed throughout this film. The style is very reminiscent of the films from Takeshi Kitano which with the pace and tone balances extreme violence and stoic moments of humor. This combination continues to be a successful trademark of many contemporary Asian filmmakers.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance depicts human nature at its worse when life itself is brutally destroyed with beautifully poetic moments. Park achieves something close to a masterpiece in his direction of the violence and the tragic relationships that develop because of love and violence.

Alexander Rojas is not a bastard child of Larry Clark, although he wishes. Resumes still available upon request.

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