Boksuneun Naui Geot (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) (Chan-wook Park, 2002)
I was wowed by Oldboy, like pretty much everyone else, and I thought Lady Vengeance was pretty nifty, too. But I had never gotten round to seeing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first film in Chan-wook Park’s celebrated trilogy, until recently. It’s the one you never really hear people going on endlessly about, and now I know why. Which is not to say it’s an entirely bad film, but held up to the others, it pales badly in comparison.
Plot: Ryu (Thirst‘s Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf factory worker, is trying to save money for his sister (Vanishing Twin‘s Ji-eun Lim), who needs a kidney transplant. Realizing that he’ll never be able to save enough with his job, he attempts to donate one of his kidneys via a fly-by-night operation who takes all his money, takes his kidney, and then leaves him naked and shivering in an abandoned building. Worse, he’s been fired from his factory job. But there’s at least some hope: the hospital calls and lets Ryu’s girlfriend (The Host‘s Doona Bae) know that a donor kidney has been found for Ryu’s sister. The problem is, Ryu no longer has the money to pay for the operation… so the three of them conspire to kidnap Yu-sun (The World of Silence‘s Bo-bae Han), the daughter of Ryu’s former boss, Park (Memories of Murder‘s Kang-ho Song). Given Ryu’s history of good decisions throughout the movie so far, you know this is not going to end well…
For some odd reason, a lot of people seemed to have a problem following the final fifteen minutes or so of this movie, at least if the IMDB boards are any indicator. I thought they were the clearest part of this, where Park is tying up all the disparate pieces of this otherwise aimless script. And to his great credit, he does a very good job of it, though you have to be paying attention to really get the gist of certain bits. (Here’s a hint: you’ll want to give your undivided attention to the scene where the cops are questioning Doona Bae’s character; as long as you get everything there, the entire ending should work for you without any problems.) But in hindsight, given the scripts for the other two movies in the trilogy, it’s obvious that Park, with one more rewrite of this script (which, famously, was completed in a single twenty-hour writing marathon), could have produced something on the same level as Oldboy and Lady Vengeance here. This is worthwhile, but it’s not up to that level. ** ½
Trailer. With subs, even!