While watching Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (SFMV), I couldn't help recalling my own bitter memories of a tragic moment several years ago. A very dear female friend of mine was found stabbed to death and her body dumped in a hockey equipment bag behind a hotel. While her family grieved, my own grief got to the point where it degenerated into pure, unadulterated rage. That rage then further declined into murderous thoughts when they finally caught the bastard who did it.
During that time, I kept wondering whether it would be prudent for me to step into the courtroom proceedings and give that motherfucker his due, courtesy of me and Ginsu, regardless of the cost. To me, it just seemed like the only right thing to do, given the circumstances.
Which is where SFMV comes in. This movie brought that whole scenario rushing back to my mind. In the film, there are no truly evil people (other than the black market human organ thieves) - the main characters simply fall into a downward spiral as a result of unfortunate circumstances that befall them. Watching Ryu and Park make their swift and parallel moral decline due to their equal burning search for vengeance was heartbreaking because it made me realize how easy it could be for anyone to do the same.
It is mainly because of how that message was delivered by Park Chan-Wook that I highly recommend this fantastic film.
However, I must also point out the masterful direction, cinematography, and acting of SFMV. The director used a lot of long takes that offered up an entrancing look into the daily tribulations of Ryu - his work at the electronics manufacturing plant, his journey back home, his care for his ailing sister. While the movie moved in a slow pace, it wasn't to the point where it induced sleep. Quite frankly, I think too many people expected a nail-biter with lots of explosions and bodies. SFMV was obviously nothing like that - suspense came in the form of wondering what Ryu and Park were going to do to each other as it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that both were going to kill each other.
Violence came in a shocking manner. It wasn't so much the gore of bloodletting, which was not as extreme as some would have led you to believe. It was really the delivery of it after such a lull. Like I said above, you knew that violence was going to eventually happen but after getting used to ordinary citizens like Ryu and Park, it came as a shock that such individuals could be capable of delivering it in such fashion. When you combined the violence with the leisurely pace of the rest of the film, it played out almost like a Takeshi Kitano film.
As for the acting, Shin Ha-Kyun met the challenge of portraying Ryu with all emotions and thoughts solely through facial expressions and actions - a challenge that he met very well. Song Kang-Ho played out the role of Park just as well, starting off as a fairly happy and successful company president and gradually declining into a raging father. Bae Doo-Na portrayed Yongmi as a really annoying bitch at first but it became clear that her character was very important as a catalyst for everything and she did just fine.
In summary, SFMV comes highly recommended, if not for the jarring message that it delivers, then for its wonderful direction and characterization.