Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Palisades Tartan
Review written by and copyright: Christopher Brown (23rd January 2010).
The Film

"Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" is the first part of Park Chan Wook's acclaimed "Vengeance Trilogy." Followed by the equally brutal and superior "Oldboy" (2003) and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" (2005).

Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin), a deaf artist who has disconnected himself from the outside world, or more accurately the world has disconnected itself from him. Living in a co-dependent hell of despair and near squalor with his terminally ill sister (Ji-Eun Lim) who desperately needs a new kidney. The only problem being is that the state health system is too slow, and too expensive to circumnavigate

Driven by desperation and a lack of money, Ryu approaches a group of organ traffickers and here is when things take the first of many downward turns. Left naked, broke and missing a kidney Ryu embarks a misguided and ultimately doomed plan to kidnap his former employers daughter in order to earn enough from the ransom to buy the kidney his sister so desperately needs. From here Ryu jumps from one disaster into the next, and what began as a simple plan devolves into a mess of bungled opportunities, mistakes, disastrous random chance, accidental death, violence and bloodshed. What began as a simple kidnapping ends with Ryu's compulsive need for revenge against the black marketeers who he sees as the architects of his suffering.

"Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" on the surface could be seen as nothing more than a piece of sensationalist cinema fusing high-end violence with bleak and often startling inappropriate comedy. If not executed just right this film could so easily have fallen flat, but instead shines as a true gem of modern cinema. The fact that Park Chan Wook's direction is nigh on perfect, and his cast are brilliant ensure that every scene and character feel true. There is a very human heart at the centre of this film despite its nihilistic leanings. As fas as performances go, Ha-kyun Shin carries this film, and he does it with an effortless ease. Both tragic and relatable you cant help but feel for his plight despite his fumblings, and the violent and often utterly tragic fallout from his actions. One of the central themes is that good people in a bad situation make decisions that will lead to your downfall despite the best of intentions. Ryu is a selfless character, he would do anything for his sister, and his lack of personal strength is more than made up by his resolve.

Unlike many of his contemporaries Park has created a dark, gritty, and grounded film. Where as many Asian directors when given this material would (and have) revel in the thunderous excesses of gun fights, explosive set pieces, and a hard boiled protagonist. Park eschews all that for a character centric, and dare I say it realistic approach. This is a character driven film. It delves deeply into the psyche of Ryu and explores it in great detail, just how much suffering and loss a man can endure, and the lengths he will go for love.

"Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" is the blackest of black comedies punctuated with scenes of extreme violence and tragedy all blanketed with a sense of despair and desperation. It is a compelling piece of cinema, and despite the dark overtones is an very enjoyable if a somewhat twisted ride. A dark and affecting film. Caustically funny, and alarmingly brutal.

Video

Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 high-definition 1080p 24/fps transfer using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film looks brilliant. Its crisp and clean throughout, I didn't notice any compression artefacts or colour loss. Deep blacks, and vivid colours coupled with the beautifully shot film itself make this a joy to watch.

Audio

The audio doesn't disappoint either. Rich, deep and wide the Korean DTS-HD Master Audio shines in 5.1 glory mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. Everything from rain to ambient sounds are richly presented. The audio is also used to highlight Ryu's deafness, and the muted tones, and sudden changes in volume/clarity are not only clean and rich, but affecting as well.
Optional subtitles are included in English only, the subtitles are clear and very easy to read (and single spelling mistake free).

Extras

The extras department is not as comprehensive as I would have liked, and missing a couple of the DVD features. The extras are good, but all are unfortunately only availed here in standard definition.

"The Process of Mr. Vengeance" featurette runs for 32 minutes 5 seconds, is a fairly standard making-of in the age of DVD/Blu-ray. It offers some insight into the filmmaking process. Interesting if not compelling.

"My Boksu Story Retrospective" featurette runs for 17 minutes 22 seconds, is another closer look at the filmmaking process. Short but informative.

Cast interviews are displayed in a reel that runs for 40 minutes 3 seconds. My favourite of the extras. An interesting and wide-ranging feature that's illustrates just how much time, sweat and passion went into this film not to mention a few interesting technical insights.

Storyboards are presented in a reel that runs for 9 minutes 57 seconds.

Finally there's the original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 47 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: B Overall: A

 


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