The film deserves a thread of its own, especially for anyone who revisits these in the future.
Links to Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I couldn't find anything in the Asian Films Thread, but that may be due to my impatience in searching through such a long thread. I believe Opus once had a great review of Oldboy as well.
The first in the Trilogy is about a green-haired deaf and dumb fellow, Ryu, who lovingly wants to donate a kidney to his sister who is dying and in need. Determined that he is the wrong blood type, the doctors turn him down for the transplant, and he finds himself now looking to the grimy world of underground gangsters and the illegal sale of human organs. At first the gangsters don't seem all that contemptible -- after all, Ryu is dealing with an older, quieter woman and her two grown-up sons in the business. But when Ryu wakes up naked and ripped off, his plot for revenge on these people is initiated.
Having lost all his cash to the underworld, he is still in need of money to try and save his sister. His girlfriend and he end up coming up with a plan to kidnap a wealthy CEO's young daughter, with plans to treat her well and when the ransom is paid, return her unharmed. Ryu's sister learns of the plot though, and tries to thwart their plans, and from here on out carnage ensues.
As with all films in the Trilogy, this ain't for the faint of heart.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is near-perfect filmmaking. The combination of audio and visual, especially in light of how they portray Ryu's own senses, give great reality to how he operates. The story begins in a slow and eerie way, with only the hum of machines and the sweat of factory workers quietly stringing us along. Even when the young girl is kidnapped, it's still a very calm story. They treat the little girl well, and at this point you can still at least hope for a good outcome. Even the camera is quiet, knowing exactly when to be static and when to pop into a more emotive hand-held clasp over its characters.
But sometime after the sister discovers Ryu's plot, everything that was tranquil begins to turn fierce. Vengeance is sought from many characters' angles.
The film made me think about times in my life where I've wanted to extract some form of revenge on someone who has hurt me, or someone who has hurt a friend, or maybe even someone I just don't like. It made me happy and thank God for the times I haven't done so. Sometimes one act of taking matters into your own hands can turn into a bloodbath for many more than just you and your own situation. It's better to simply pray, "Thy will be done," and let God have sympathy on us.
Speaking of which, one of the major differences between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy is in how each of the central characters react to the spiritual dimension in their lives, and the differening consequences of all involved. In Sympathy, Ryu only depends on himself to get him out of the terrible mistaken jam he's gotten into, and as a result, he is murdered as even his killer recognizes that he's "a good guy." Contrast that with Oldboy, where the lovers Oh Dae-su and Mi-do are found praying together that the "Lord" will get them out of this jam. Regardless of the fact that Oh Dae-su has become a total instrument of vengeance (and who wouldn't in his situation?), it does seem that God heard their prayers, and not only do they avoid certain death but they are even relieved of the knowledge of their incestuous relationship. Even in the midst of several of the heaviest of sins, God hears their prayer and heals their wounds.
Back to Sympathy for one last question. Two of the most odd burial scenes are here, a couple of the strangest scenes including a palsied character stepping straight out of Lynchian mythos. (He is credited as "Retarded Boy at River.") Is this simply an anomaly Mr. Park threw in to shake us from the norm, or does this character actually represent an idea that I'm missing? It was an outstanding, off-balance character which reminded me of John (Michael Shannon) in Revolutionary Road, which I also recently saw. Perhaps the difference being that John's character is the institutionalized man who is the only sane (or at least understanding) person in Revolutionary Road, whereas the "Retarded Boy at River" is a free man who seems to meddle in others' messed-up, but sane, affairs.
I look forward to Lady Vengeance later on today.
Edited by Persona, 19 July 2009 - 11:59 AM.