Welcome to a double feature special here at Japan Cinema. Today we wrap up Chan Park Wook’s Revenge Trilogy. Oldboy, the other film in the trilogy was reviewed last month which can be viewed here. For those keeping track, this trilogy is NOT reviewed in order (#1 – Mr, #2 – Oldboy, #3 Lady), and obviously, they don’t have to be viewed in order.
Sent to prison for 13 years for her part in the kidnapping of a child, 19 year old Lee Geum-Ja discovers that her accomplice Mr. Baek is actually responsible for her incarceration and has betrayed her. Unlike Oh Dae-su’s torturous, unjust imprisonment in Oldboy, Geum-ja’s time in jail is not only partially justified but also a fruitful time full of social networking for the vengeful woman. By the time Geum-ja is released at the beginning of the film, she already has amassed so many friends and favors from fellow inmates in prison that there is very little actual legwork to do in the matter of extracting her revenge.
It is no secret Oldboy is my favorite movie of all time so I won’t knock any of these films in comparison because that wouldn’t be fair, but this film doesn’t even attempt to make Sympathy for Lady Vengeance its equal in terms of outlandish style and impact. This film is less about revenge for revenge’s sake and more about the possibility of salvation or redemption, and whether after such acts of brutality it can ever truly be attained.
Hate and revenge – the uglier aspects of of human nature – are Parks’ bread and butter so there should be no surprises that when Geum-Ja goes about exacting her revenge. Park delivers the goods in thrilling, comically amoral fashion. In this manner, Park has fashioned a rare revenge melodrama, playing the traditional female emotions of guilt and remorse for breaking up her family off the male-oriented revenge genre film. While the female focus is refreshing, what is not are the clichéd notions of what a woman is fighting for, what draws out the bloodlust in a normal female. The details of the plot are tried, clichéd, and outdated. Otherwise, this is a intelligent, unsettling film, and Park deserves much credit for not simply repeating himself.
Ryu’s a young man who has had a rough life so far. Not only is he deaf and mute, but also his beloved sister lies on her deathbed desperately in need of a kidney transplant. In desperation, Ryu gives every penny he has to a gang of underground organ-dealers. But when they rip him off and a legitimate kidney becomes available at the hospital, Ryu and his political activist girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) are forced to find the money elsewhere. Ryu doesn’t have the cash but he does have an idea – he and his friend decide to kidnap his boss’ daughter and hold her for ransom. Ryu and his pal execute their plan and abduct the girl and it looks like things are going pretty smoothly at first as her old man has no problem whatsoever ponying up the cash to get her back. They release her, but for reasons that shouldn’t be explained here for fear of spoiling the film, she doesn’t wind up back in his possession immediately and because of this, he ends up going on the warpath to track down and take care of the kidnapping duo.
The film turns into a spiral of revenge, leading to an inevitable climax. Along the way Chan Park Wook presents images alternately beautiful and stomach-turning, it’s hard to watch this film and not be impressed by the directors stunning eye. Some scenes have an almost hypnotic calm to them, and Park will sometimes cut away to a long shot while the most graphic violence is happening before switching to a close-up for the gruesome aftermath. In many ways Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an exercise in shock, but it’s not without heart.
It should also be mentioned that because the film moves so slowly at times, the final half hour is all the more intense because when Park hits you over the head with some of the tricks he pulls in this film, you really don’t see it coming and feel it all the more. There are a couple of truly cringe-worthy moments in this film that, if you haven’t seen it before, come right out of left field and sucker punch you when you least expect it – and it’s a great feeling when that happens. Although I have said it before, I will say it once more, nothing touches Oldboy. However, this film is as disturbing and exhilarating a piece of filmmaking as you’ll see for some time. As far as trilogies are concerned, this ranks up there with Star Wars and the Matrix Trilogy. Next time you find yourself in a move marathon, watch these 3 films and you will experience the ultimate rollercoaster ride. Recommended.