Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Dir: Park Chan-wook
Star: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doo-na, Lim Ji-Eun

Probably the most depressing film I've seen since Dancer in the Dark, you eventually realise that this film is a cinematic illustration of Murphy's law: anything than can go wrong, will go wrong. Shin plays Ryu, a mute factory worker desperate to get his sister a kidney transplant: he tries to buy an organ on the black market, but gets ripped off. Then, when a donor turns up, he needs the cash to pay for the operation, so hatches a scheme to kidnap the daughter of his former boss, and hold her for ransom. Needless to say, things don't quite go to plan, to say the least, and this soon becomes a downward spiral of death and revenge.

This is somewhat contrived on occasion, the plot relying on a combination of convenient coincidence and deus ex machina much more than is welcome. There's also a jarring shift of focus midway, from Ryu to his boss, Dong-Jin (Song), that is a double-edged sword: while you see both sides of the story, it requires an almost 180-degree shift in your viewpoint. Yet it retains an almost Shakespearean feel, and the obviousness of the characters' fates matters no more here than in Hamlet. A combination of good performances (the wordless Shin is especially impressive) and subtle direction turn this into a modern-day Grimm fairy tale. And "Grim" is certainly an appropriate word for the overall emotional impact.

May 2005

Devil on his shoulder
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