Kill and be killed
"Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" is a visionary nightmare from Korea built on a cycle of revenge that only begets more revenge.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Yeong-mi certainly has a strange idea of pillow talk.
"I heard that this happened in Australia," she says in her usual pouty voice, signing the words as she speaks for her deaf, green-haired boyfriend. "A man thought he had two heads. And he kept getting headaches. With two heads, he had headaches all the time. So you know what he did? He shot one of his heads."
|SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE|
|Directed by: Park Chan-wook.|
Written by: Lee Jae-sun, Lee Mu-yeong, Lee Yong-jong, Park Chan-wook.
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Du-na, Lim Ji-Eun, Han Bo-bae, Kim Se-dong, Lee Dae-yeon.
In Korean with English subtitles.
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"The left or the right?" the boyfriend signs back.
This strange story sets a kind of tone for "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" by the director of the political thriller "Joint Security Area." It's a tragedy of Sophoclean inevitability in which misfortune leads to bad consequences, and bad consequences lead to worse ones. Wrongs are avenged and then the vengeance is avenged too. Much of it would be slyly funny if it weren't such a nightmare.
The young green-haired man, Ryu, has two problems. He's just lost his job in a steel plant, and his sister is dying of kidney failure. Getting a transplant will require luck and about $20,000.|
The trio plan a kidnapping to raise the money. There are good kidnappings and bad kidnappings, they persuade themselves, and this will be a good one. They won't ask for one Korean won more than necessary for the operation, they'll return the abducted little girl to her Mercedes-driving executive dad safe and happy, and no one will get hurt.
From this beginning spins a plot involving disoriented cops and shadowy organ traffickers, arrogant rich and resentful poor, grim cruelty and abundant misery. People seem to be inflicting violence not out of anger but according to the demands of honor and justice, and we can understand why things have to be this way. There is no such thing as a happy ending for anybody.
Still, a faint whiff of unreality pervades the atmosphere, creating a dreamlike mood that balances the harshness. The narrative doesn't always explain itself, and dialogue is often minimal. Scenes don't always have a beginning, middle and end; some are shown for their visual impression or visceral impact. These are visions from among the dark recesses of the mind, shoved in our faces with ruthless imagination. Even beauty.
|DECEMBER 12, 2003|
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