I was excited when I learned that I would be receiving a review copy of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, the first installment of director Chan-wook Park's "revenge trilogy". Both my wife and I loved the second installment, which was OldBoy, so we were both really looking forward to seeing this one. Unfortunately, it left us both quite disappointed. It took seemingly forever to get started. Yeah, it had a nice visual style with interesting angles and lighting, but nothing of interest actually took place for quite a while. My wife fell asleep about half way through, and honestly I can't blame her. Then when it did seem like we were getting to some kind of plot, the focus would completely change. It felt almost like short stories rather than a feature film.
The film begins with a radio station personality reading a letter sent by a deaf-mute (someone who can't hear or speak) named Ryu on the air. From the letter we learn that Ryu's sister is in desperate need of a kidney transplant, and because the extreme love that he holds for his sister, he has decided, against her wishes, to donate his own kidney. It's definitely a sweet gesture, but at the doctor's office we learn that Ryu's blood type is B while his sister's is A, making him an incompatible donor and completely squashing his plan. But he is not deterred! Next he tries to buy one on the black market, but finds are way too expensive. So instead of buying one outright, he trades his kidney plus 10 million Won (approximately $10,000), which is pretty much his life savings. At least, that was the plan....
Of course what kind of revenge flick would this be if everything went according to plan? So Ryu wakes up alone, naked, and missing both his and his sister's kidney. And if that wasn't bad enough, only a couple weeks later the hospital announces that there is a actually kidney available, and all he needs to do is pay the required 10 million Won... which he no longer has. Now, to kick a guy when he's down, Ryu gets fired from his job. Can you feel the bad-ass revenge mode building up inside? Unfortunately, no. Our guy is still as calm as ever. And besides the fact that it took forever to get to this point, this is why the movie just isn't that exciting. You'd expect Ryu would go out and start taking some kick-ass revenge like Dae-su did in OldBoy, but you'd be wrong.
Instead, his revolutionist girlfriend Cha Yeongmi convinces him to kidnap Yoosun, the preteen daughter of his ex-boss, the wealthy Dong-jin, and ransom her for the money. I understand why he needs the money, but it's still hard to sympathize with someone who kidnaps a child. And then of course things go horribly wrong, causing both Ryu and Dong-jin to go into bad-ass revenge mode. Had this happened say like an hour earlier, this film could have really been as good as Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, but unfortunately all this only comes into play during the third act, so by the time it finally arrives you really don't care all that much. Still, all the revenge scenes we get from this point on, from both men, are seriously intense.
The extra features on the DVD include a behind the scenes featurette, and first look at Lady Vengeance (the third film in Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy), and a commentary by the director. Sorry, no deleted scenes, interviews, or outtakes. There is a photo gallery, the theatrical promo, and some other new releases from Tartan Video. The disc is single-sided and comes with a couple different Korean language tracks (depending on whether you prefer Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS Surround Sound 5.1) with a optional English or Spanish subtitles.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance will be released on DVD on November 22, 2005. It's directed by Chan-wook Park and stars Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin, Du-na Bae, Ji-Eun Lim, Bo-bae Han, Se-dong Kim, and Dae-yeon Lee.