For those unfamiliar with Chan Wook-Park's work, the director has a knack for taking the most extreme situations and bringing an unnerving calm and understanding to them. All actions deserve an equal or greater reaction, all of which is explained so that the viewer does not feel slighted by the perpetrator's motives. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Park exploits vigilantism to its fullest extent and fabricates a story unlike any this writer has ever seen.
Ryu (Song Gang-Ho) is a deaf mute whose life has been completely consumed by his sister's kidney ailment. In desperate need of finding a donor, much of Ryu's time is spent caring for her in the confines of their dilapidated apartment. After exploring every legal possibility to obtain his sister's transplant, Ryu finally turns to the black market to get the organ his sister so desperately needs. Unfortunately, the people that perform the operation steal his kidney and money, leaving him to waste in an abandoned factory building. During this time, Ryu's place of employment decides that he's been missing too much work lately and fires him. Without any money, or the kidney promised by the black market surgeons, Ryu's sister is ultimately doomed. With no where left to turn, Ryu seeks out the aid of his communist girlfriend, who suggests that they kidnap his ex boss' daughter to get the money required for a kidney transplant.
A self made tycoon, Dong-jin lives for only two things: his company that he built from the ground up and his daughter, Yoosun. After the collapse of South Korea's economy, Dong-jin's wife left him with their daughter for reasons unexplained, driving him to be the most responsible and honest person possible. Seemingly, he had created the perfect nurturing environment for his daughter, surrounding her with love and all the possessions she could ask for. However, none of that mattered when Yoosun was kidnapped and ransomed. Nearly broken by the fear that his only child may be lost, Dong-jin cooperates with the kidnappers and pays the ransom demanded. Believing that all would be well, Dong-jin crumbles when he finds out that Yoosun has been murdered by the kidnappers. Broken and with no cares left in the world, Dong-jin becomes obsessed with getting revenge on those responsible for his daughter's death.
One of the more poignant tales to come out of the Asian cinema scene, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the crown jewel in all revenge flicks. Chan-Wook Park easily exceeds any expectations brought by the viewer with a very moody and encompassing film. The viewer cannot help but be drawn into the emotional roller coaster that both Ryu (Song) and Dong-jin (Shin) endure for the full 121 minutes. Better yet, there is no sense of angst or ill will projected towards any of the characters because by the closing credits, every person's actions are justified. Hence, the excellent choice of title. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance does not pertain to only Dong-jin's actions, rather to the act of vengeance itself as presented by the various characters in the film. No action is left without a reaction and ALL moral debts are paid by the film's end.
With both OldBoy and Sympathy, Chan-Wook Park has made another fan for life, and one that is chomping at the bit to get his hands on the final act in the trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.