"There are good kidnappings and bad kidnappings"

Title: Boksuneun Naui Geot
English Title: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Chan-wook Park
Release Date: 29th March 2002 (South Korea), 30th May 2003 (UK)
Runtime: 129 (South Korea), 121 (UK)

Ha-kyun Shin - Ryu
Kang-ho Song - Park Dong-jin
Du-na Bae - Cha Yeong-mi
Ji-Eun Lim - Ryu's Sister
Bo-bae Han - Yu-sun

Ryu is a deaf mute whose sister needs a kidney transplant desperately. Ryu's blood type does not match hers and he arranges with some dodgy organ dealers to give them his kidney and a large sum of money in exchange for a kidney for his sister. The organ dealers do a runner and Ryu is left with one kidney and no money. Shortly after this, a donor comes forward, but Ryu now has no money to pay for the organ.

Ryu is laid off from his job and he and his girlfriend (actually, their relationship is never really clear but they live together and have sex so girlfriend doesn't seem like a bad guess), Yeong-mi, hatch a plan to kidnap his old bosses daughter and get the money for the transplant. All goes well until the young girl accidentally dies while in their care (this was certainly never their intention).

The rest of the film is basically just everyone getting revenge on everyone else and can't really be adequately described in words.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an odd film. Seemingly fairly normal for the first hour and a half (well, except for the scene with four youths masturbating to what they think is a couple having sex but is actually Ryu's sister writhing in agony on the floor (oh, and the guy who slashes himself five times with a stanley knife)) it suddenly explodes into an orgy of violent retribution in the last quarter. There are some seriously sick bits that would have the usual quarters reaching for their megaphones to proclaim the horrible degredation of good taste, but also has some truly heart-warming parts (the pre-accidental death kidnap bits in particular).

This is, I think, the first South Korean film I've seen and certainly the first by Chan-wook Park, but I get the impression that this is not a 'standard' South Korean movie and was met with a similarly shocked reaction in its homeland. Park's last movie, Joint Security Area was also given a fair international release (although I'm fairly sure it never reached UK or US cinemas) and was met with good reviews - and the mid age-range ratings imply much less in the way of violence.

I am not in any way squeamish or easy to shock and have seen and enjoyed a fair number of 'challenging' titles, but there were portions of this film that affected me in a way that I don't think any have before. It isn't even really what happens - late on there is a scene where Ryu takes revenge on the organ donors; he walks into a room in which one of them is raping what we assume is an unconscious 'donor' and proceeds to bash one of them in the skull over and over again with a baseball bat before felling the other and taking out their mother too. The events, while slightly 'out there', are not unlike what you would find in a handful of other titles, but it is the way Park portrays them that is so challenging - some parts are left to the imagination while others are shown in graphic detail.

I'm finding it quite hard to judge the acting, possibly because it's been nearly a week since I saw the movie, but also because I found it really hard to tell quite how good it was at the time. The fact that it's in Korean doesn't help, but I haven't had the same problem with other Far Eastern movies. This film has had a weird effect on me.

It is at no point clear who the 'Mr. Vengeance' we are supposed to have sympathy for is - it seems for the most part that Ryu's boss is the only guilt-free party but he kills at least one person completely unrelated to the kidnap plot and ends up dying himself. I personally sympathised with Ryu more than anyone else, but he is also clearly not without blame. Overall, if you have an open mind and feel that the sight of a girl pissing herself while being electrocuted through her ears is something you'd like to see, check out this movie. Otherwise, it may be best to stay away.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance appeared in Harry Knowles', of aintitcoolnews.com, top 10 movies of 2002 list.

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