Tuesday, 23 February 2010

You Know Why I Have To Kill You.

Both Oldboy and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook were on my list to see, but, as they're the second and third parts of a trilogy, I figured I should start at the beginning. And so the beginning I did start at, with his Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, from 2002.

Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) is a deaf-mute who is laid off from the factory job that supports not only him, but his sister, who needs a kidney transplant and can't take one from Ryu as their blood types don't match. Ryu tracks down some black market organ dealers, desperate to help his sister, and is told that for 10mil won and one of his own kidneys they will find a kidney for his sister. Having taken his kidney and his money, Ryu hears nothing from the dealers, and a few weeks later is contacted by the hospital, saying they have found a suitable donor and for 10mil won they can go ahead with the transplant. Of course, Ryu no longer has the money, and so has to come up with a way to find it to help his sister.

He and his anarchist girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Doona) come up with the plan to kidnap Yu-sun (Han Bo-bae), the daughter of the friend of Ryu's ex-boss, holding her for ransom. His sister looks after Yu-sun as Ryu and Yeong-mi manage to keep her happy, waiting for the ransom money to come through, but when Ryu's sister finds out about the plot and the reasons behind it, she takes her own life. Devastated, Ryu takes her to a river bank to bury her, accompanied by the suitcase full of cash and Yu-sun. Ryu, with his back to her, cannot hear Yu-sun's cries as she falls into the water - unable to swim, she drowns.

Once more wracked with guilt over an unforeseen death that he unwittingly played a part in, Ryu's rage takes over and he exacts revenge on the organ dealers while Yu-sun's father grieves and vows his own vengeance. Back at the river side he does this, recognising Ryu as a good man but stating he has no option, drowning Ryu. Shortly after, he is set upon by four activist friends of Yeong-mi, taking revenge for her own death at his hands.

Mr Vengeance is a powerful revenge thriller, filled with quirky characters and scenes reminiscent of a David Lynch film, seemingly without much of a point but creating mood and tone far beyond what the mere narrative might create. Delving into the grimy worlds of kidnapping and organ theft, it never manages to feel as dour and depressing as something like Dirty Pretty Things, retaining a sense of hope, fun and optimism even as everything is going wrong.

Chan-wook does a great job of crafting this story, aided by a terrific performance by Shin Ha-kyun - like Mathieu Amalric in Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon, he gives off a performance without uttering a word in real time, reliant on what he does with his body, his eyes, his expressions (and often a complete lack of them) to convey his emotions. The supports, including the young Bo-bae, are generally solid, though their parts to play in the story mean they are generally little more than stereotypes and caricatures, which fits in well with the surreal aspects of Ryu's silence.

As the first part of the thematic trilogy, it is a solid entry, setting up expectations well for the subsequent Oldboy. 4 stars.

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