Sunday, 17 June 2012

Korean Thrillers: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance

As I’ve previously acknowledged, South Korea has become a hub for the best thrillers of the last decade, and continuously puts Hollywood to shame with its sheer determination and no-nonsense approach. I’ve already talked about the likes of Oldboy, The Chaser and I Saw The Devil. So over the next week (or so) I’m going to bring a couple more to your attention: 
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002) 
The first of the “Vengeance Trilogy” (Oldboy and Lady Vengeance), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance perfectly demonstrates not only director Park Chan-wook’s infamous talent, but the narrative structures and thematic approaches within the genre. Deaf-mute Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is determined to do anything to save his dying sister’s life. Shady dealings and losing his job, he’s desperate to find the money for her kidney transplant. Subsequently, he and his terrorist girlfriend Yeong-mi attempt to kidnap the daughter of his previous boss Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song). What ensues is a compelling and fierce tale of revenge, flawed personalities and sheer emotional power. 

What’s clear and clever with Park Chan-wook’s story-telling is the constant battle over the audience’s sympathy towards his characters. Here we understand Ryu’s desire to save his ill sister and the barriers he’ll break in order to succeed. Yet we also understand Dong-jin’s path of violence and determination to find his daughter, and his rather barbaric reaction towards the events in the final third of the film. It’s truly a marvel of writing and directing that persistently creates a film that remains utterly compelling and intense. Meanwhile, Park also perfectly mixes the uncompromising nature of Sympathy’s themes and reality with moments of charm and humour that manage to develop the characters and give further weight to the ensuing drama. With great performances, great cinematography and great writing, if you’ve watched Oldboy or haven’t, then Sympathy for My Vengeance is a perfect addition or place to start in the genre of the “Korean thriller” .

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