복수는 나의 것 (Boksuneun naui geot, lit. “Vengeance Is Mine”) [Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance] (2002)

The first in Chan-wook Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” I picked this up pretty quickly after watching Oldboy, which I absolutely loved. I also picked up Lady Vengeance, but have yet to watch it, aiming for both purchase order and theoretical “chronological order.” Of course, the films are only thematically related, and otherwise have nothing to do with each other. Naturally, as always, the English title is not a literal translation (more like “Vengeance Is Mine” apparently) but I suppose works well enough, though I’m not sure who they were referring to when they chose that title, honestly.

Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf-mute whose only living relative is his sister, who has fallen ill. He quits school and takes up a job in a factory to try and support her, but finds she needs a new kidney and he is suddenly fired from even the factory job. He sees stickers put up for back-alley organ transplants and signs away one of his kidneys and 10 million won to get one for his sister. Here we see that he loves his sister and means well, but is not the most worldly of people. We are unsurprised to find him waking up naked with a scar on his back and no equipment or people present any longer. Now he is out of the money that could be used if a donor is found legitimately. His girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) suggests a solution based on her radical ultra-leftist ideology (she’s constantly handing out fliers to strangers in the street telling them to “drive out American products” and so on)–he should kidnap the daughter, Yu-sun (Bo-bae Han) of the industrialist who fired him, Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song). She maintains that this is fine, because she and Ryu are not bad people and would get the money from Park and then return his daughter, no problems, no questions asked. Further she claims no crime is committed because they’re just moving money around. Again, poor stupid Ryu thinks the doublespeak and rhetoric of someone quicker than him is the right path and they enact this plan.

From here, it’s best to simply see the movie. As with most plots of this nature, things spin out of control and leave us in a completely different place from that which we first saw and expected from this movie.

As with Oldboy, the movie is thoroughly mis-represented. “Revenge Was Never This Sweet” is one of the taglines the film had–and again we get the idea from it that we’re in for a Korean Death Wish or something, instead finding ourselves with a quirky, brilliantly directed meditation on vengeance and its ramifications. Park (the director, not the character) is a master, I must say. I started the film and it didn’t instantly grab me the way the opening of Oldboy did, with Dae-Su holding the random man off the building to that awesome music–I was expecting to be sitting here typing, “Park shows none of the style or craftsmanship of Oldboy, but creates an engaging story anyway…” Instead, I found myself noticing a completely different, yet recognizable, style in this film. Things are very still; stationary cameras are put to heavy use, and often the emotion is conveyed brilliantly as churning within a near-immobile character as they think, imagine or just feel and very little moves around them. The whole move has a feeling of disinterested detachment throughout, with wide-angle lenses on long shots, including some beautiful ones centered around a river we learn was a childhood playground for Ryu and his sister. It gives the impression that the audience is the world, nature itself, simply observing the inhumanity of man
toward his fellow men.

Yes, once again, the film is not an encouragement of torture, murder or vengeance. None are portrayed as desirable, positive, justified or happy events. We just see men falling from sanity and reasonability as events–often events without any real blame–shred the sense they have made of life and they see violence as the only way to try and put things right. They find, almost inevitably, that this isn’t the case, and each act of violence simply leads to another. No one is evil, no one is good, no one is faultless, innocent or completely guilty. Things just happen and things just are, and man rebels against this with devastating results, because he cannot find the connection to the events or the people he sees as at fault. Again, it’s as if we are seeing an objective view of all of this, yet being given a window into the souls of the characters, seeing and feeling the pain of all of them. We see the kidnappers and their innocent motives and intentions and that things just go wrong, and it isn’t their choice, fault or even something they could easily control.

It’s absolutely beautiful, and I look forward to Lady Vengeance with much excitement, and I should really track down any more of Park’s films that I can.

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