Director: Chan Wook Park
Cast: Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doona, Song Kang-ho
Length: 129 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: Korean: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
- Audio Commentary with Director Park Chan-wook and Actor/Filmmaker Ryoo Seong-wan
- The Process of Mr. Vengeance
- My Boksu Story
- Crew Interviews
- Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-wook
- Soundtrack & Photos
- Original Behind-the-Scenes Feature
In 2003, Chan-wook Park astonished audiences worldwide with the release of Oldboy. A tense and beautifully crafted revenge-thriller, Oldboy quickly rose to fame, even winning Grand Prix at Cannes. Oldboy, however, is the second in a thematic trilogy of films directed by Park, entitled the “Vengeance Trilogy.” A year prior to Oldboy’s release, the first in the series, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance opened in Korea, but—with the exception of a small following—failed to find a large audience until after Oldboy’s success. Following the release of Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance did receive a limited theatrical run, but, until now, failed to receive a region A Blu-Ray release. In collaboration with Palisades Tartan, Kino Lorber has acquired the rights to give this lesser seen gem a proper Blu-Ray treatment—so fans of Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Chan-wook Park can rejoice.
The storyline for the film is a bit complex. To simplify it in readable terms will do a bit of damage to the film, but we will do our best to give a brief synopsis for those who have yet to see it. With his sister in need of a new kidney, deaf mute Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) struggles to find a solution to her ever-growing problem. Taking matters into his own hands, Ryu discovers a black-market syndicate that offers him their services. Ryu, who is not a donor match for his sister himself, agrees to pay the syndicate and exchange one of his own kidneys in return for a matching kidney for his sister. As one may expect, the syndicate cons Ryu, stealing his kidney and his life’s savings. To make matters worse, Ryu discovers that the hospital has found a donor match for his sister, but Ryu is now unable to afford it. Along with his anarchist girlfriend, Ryu hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy businessman’s, Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song), daughter for ransom. From this point the film spirals into a series of growingly unfortunate events, begging the question: at what cost does vengeance come?
Fans of Chan-wook Park’s work will surely be pleased with this early installment. While it lacks the visual innovation of Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is beautifully shot and masterfully crafted. Park makes brilliant use of environments. For Ryu, the spaces are tight and cramped; giving a sense of entrapment that matches his financial and social place. While for the wealthy Park Dong-jin, the spaces are expansive and bleak, matching the emptiness of his life. There is reluctance in Park’s style, a minimalism which he will exploit heavily later in his career with Stoker. Where Oldboy is fast and dynamic, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is slow and brooding.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance gains its real power through its manipulation of narrative conventions. While there are a few characters that embody pure representations of good and evil, almost all of the principle characters in the film oscillate between poles of good and evil, almost outright denying the existence of these idealist states. The film allows us to understand, even accept, how people could be driven to such horrific acts. But, importantly, the film is not with a strong morality. While it may sympathize with horrific acts, where the film’s judgment is placed is in relation to the notion of vengeance. Vengeance becomes the main narrative driving force. As the viewer is pulled into the lives of the characters, we begin to understand that in attempts to right wrongs, to take matters into their own hands, the characters only further harm themselves and those around them. Vengeance is every character’s downfall.
There is poetry in the strength of the film’s message. Even as the film pulls the viewer into this moral conundrum, we are entertained by the exploitative moments of violence and despair; we are forced to see the backlash. Park is almost inviting us to enjoy the characters’ misery, only to show us how we are as guilty as the characters. In this light, the film’s message comes full circle.
Taken from the Region B Palisades Tartan 2.33:1 1080p transfer, Kino Lorber’s release looks quite stunning. In particular, the print is extremely clean. Almost no sign of dust and/or scratches are present. The colors are magnificent: rich, deep, and bold. Greens are especially outstanding—necessary as Park makes use of a lavish amount of pale aqua green tones to dress his sets. There are minor moments where digital restoration appears noticeable, but nothing that is necessarily distracting. Ultimately, the picture is of utmost quality, a fine collaboration between two great companies.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is strong. The balance between dialogue, sound effects, and music is modestly achieved, leaving little-to-no moments of muddled confusion. There is suitable depth in tonality, not the most vibrant mix but far from problematic. A fine and faithful track that is free from distractions such as hiss, pops, and cracks.
There are two features in particular that we are extremely pleased to see on this release. The first is a commentary track with director Chan-wook Park himself, joined by actor/filmmaker Ryoo Seong-wan. Second, Asian film scholar Jonathan Ross analyzes Park’s work and style in a featurette. It seems as if more distribution companies are pushing towards this form of critical analysis to be included on releases, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the usual behind the scenes featurettes we are used to. Rounding out the package, there are various interviews with crew, animated storyboards, promotional photos, and a behind the scenes featurette. There is more than an adequate amount of media for fans to sink their teeth into.
While Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has been largely overshadowed by Oldboy’s success, it is a brilliant and bold film that needs to be seen. The first installment in a series of Kino Lorber/Palisades Tartan Region A re-releases, this film is a perfect introduction to Chan-wook Park and Korean genre cinema. The precipice for Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance gives us an early look into the evolving style of one of Korea’s best filmmakers. With the inclusion of a wealth of supplementary features and a well-supervised transfer you can’t go wrong with this Blu-Ray.