Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

It's hard to say whether Korean director Park Chan-wook's astonishing tale of the increasingly grisly events that ripple out from a young man's ill-conceived effort to help his desperately ill sister is a comedy punctuated by spasms of calamity or a tragedy studded with grim laughs. Either way, it's a hauntingly original film in which the seeds of Park's...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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It's hard to say whether Korean director Park Chan-wook's astonishing tale of the increasingly grisly events that ripple out from a young man's ill-conceived effort to help his desperately ill sister is a comedy punctuated by spasms of calamity or a tragedy studded with grim laughs. Either way, it's a hauntingly original film in which the seeds of Park's even more audacious OLDBOY (2003) are clearly evident. Orphaned Ryu (Shin Ha-gyun), a deaf artist whose handicap has isolated him from the world since birth, and his older sister (Lim Ji-eun) live in a rundown housing project, bound together by mutual sacrifice. She abandoned her education to put him through art school, which he in turn had to leave for a hellish job at a smelting plant when she developed kidney disease. As her illness progresses, it becomes clear that she needs a kidney soon, but the only way of bypassing the state-run waiting-list system is money, and Ryu doesn't have enough. And things get worse: Ryu loses his job and is tricked by a gruesome family of black-market organ traffickers, who not only take Ryu's life savings but also steal one of his own kidneys and abandon him, naked, in the middle of nowhere. So Ryu decides to try the plan cooked up by his loudmouthed girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Du-na), who claims to be part of a revolutionary cell and spends her days railing against the government. Ryu and Yeong-mi kidnap little Yu-sun (Han Bo-bae), the daughter of Ryu's former boss, Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho), who's reeling from his wife's sudden abandonment and an economic downturn that may cost him everything he owns. But the kidnapping goes no better than the business with the black-market kidney, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse game between the pathetic kidnapper and the despairing father, each driven by the hope of cosmic compensation for his miseries. The only constant in Park's brilliantly cruel world is this: No matter how badly things seem to be going, there's a twist of fate lurking around the next curve that will make them worse. It's hard not to giggle at some of the preposterous misfortunes that befall the film's twin avengers, but rest assured — laugh-strangling consequences are never far behind.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: It's hard to say whether Korean director Park Chan-wook's astonishing tale of the increasingly grisly events that ripple out from a young man's ill-conceived effort to help his desperately ill sister is a comedy punctuated by spasms of calamity or a traged… (more)

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