WARNING: Here there be (mild) spoilers! I try not to have spoilers in my reviews, but I just had some problems with specific things in this movie, particularly at the end – you’ve been warned.
Maybe I just don’t get Korean filmmaking. The first part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the story of deaf and dumb Ryu, who – desperate to save his ailing sister – turns to the black market for a kidney. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well. Ripped off and even more desperate than before, Ryu and his girlfriend hatch a plan to get the money they need by “borrowing” the daughter of a wealthy business man. Again, things don’t go well and Ryu and the businessman, Dong-jin, find themselves embroiled in a rapidly-spiraling trail of destruction and vegeance.
The story here is good, but there’s a whole lot of extraneous stuff going on. Maybe it’s lost in the translation, but I just didn’t see the need for some of the characters. Also, there seemed to be a lot of meaningless shots for a director who is so widely acclaimed. Maybe there are cultural nuances I’m missing or something because there were constantly shots that were either meaningless or overdone but somewhere, in the back of my mind, was the gnawing feeling that this should mean something to me. The murder of the organ cartel, also, seemed gratuitous and overly contrived.
Beyond the core characters and the primary plot, the film is ridiculous. Maybe life is cheaper in Korea than it is here, but I don’t buy black market organ harvesters advertising by posting flyers on the wall. Some of the other situations are ridiculous as well: Ryu is (at least in part) tracked down because he wrote in to his favorite radio program about his sister…despite the whole “being deaf” thing. The ending needs a good deal more explanation than we are given as well, as Dong-jin gets his comeuppance from a group of men that apparently happened to stumble upon him out in the middle of nowhere.
Not nearly as ridiculous as Oldboy (the second film in the trilogy), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance had some potential. The story is good, as are most of the performances. The film needed a stronger editor because a good 20-30 minutes serves no purpose. But, again, the Vengeance Trilogy and Park Chan-wook are both widely acclaimed by people smarter than me, so maybe I just don’t get it.