And I thought that Park Chan-wook could not top his own 2004 vengeance movie, Old Boy. Well he did. And 2005's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance be thy name of its most worthy usurper. Unfortunately, his previous film to Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (which when these three flicks come together they form the stupendous South Korean "Vengeance Trilogy"!), did not quite make the grade. Not that Mr. Vengeance was a bad movie, but it being the first of the three (the order that they were made was of course Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, and Lady Vengeance) it was the most uneven, and it didn't really flow as smoothly as the consequent films.
What is so cool about these three vengeful movies is that even though the basic plot element of "vengeance" moves them, and even though they're all made by the same guy, they each tackle a different side to vengeance, and they each leave you feeling so very different at the end of the night. Mr. Vengeance is all about two nice guys getting vengeful on eachother out of grief, after terrible accidents begin to occur while they're both trying to save loved ones -- it is very hard to watch. Old Boy is about long-planned and forced vengeance on people who kind of, but not really, deserve it -- it is brutal and fun to watch. Lady Vengeance is about BRUTAL and long planned, patient vengeance on people who deserve it more than anybody ever deserved anything... And the person ennacting the vengeance also gets a lot of sadistic help in doing so, and allows quite a few people to join in the vengey festivities -- it is hard, but fullfilling, to watch. And with that I think I've already made sure that I'm number 1 with a bullet on Google's search page for the word "vengeance." Sweet! Now on to the reviews!!!
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
So there's this blue-haired, deaf-mute (Ryu) who's taking care of the only family member he has left in his really shitty life: his sister. Only thing is that his sister is now fucked-up-ill, and needs a new kidney very soon or she'll die. Ryu also has a cute girlfriend who he bangs on a regular basis, but she's a pinko-liberal commie, and she's the reason that Ryu gets caught up in the whole vengeance plot in the first place. Well, it's kind of everybody's fault really, but she puts the idea in Ryu's head.
Okay, so Ryu's working his ass off simply trying to make ends meet and save up enough for his sister's operation, when he comes across a flyer for blackmarket organs. Seriously. See, the doctors haven't gotten a match to his sis yet, and her days are numbered, so Ryu goes to see the illegal merchants to work out a liverrific deal with them. As you might have guessed, things don't go too swimmingly for poor Ryu, and now he's left penniless and with only one kidney of his own. Don't worry, things only get shittier from there.
So of course a shiny new liver comes in to the hospital just then, but Ryu can't afford the swap-op after his fuck-up with the blackmarket people and after getting laid off at the factory; so he then makes the biggest mistake that ANY guy could ever hope to do: He takes his girlfriend's advice. Ms. Pinko tells him to kidnap the daughter of Dong-Jin, a business man who is friends with the asshole who fired Ryu, and who can afford to foot the bill for Ryu's sister's surgery. This is when the two tons of excrement hit the industrial-sized fan. Shit goes South fast, and the unintentional body count then rises exponentially. People then start taking vengeance out on all those involved on both sides, all the way until the last minute of the movie.
Oh man, just thinking about this again makes me cringe. The whole thing is just way too sad. By about the halfway point of the movie you can see things through both Ryu's and Dong-Jin's points of view. You really don't know who to root for, or if you should be rooting for anybody in the first place. Both men are altogether good people who just fall into really bad circumstances, and you only hope that both will just meet, hear the other out, and realize that they both got a shitty lot in life, and simply shake hands and walk away.... But it wouldn't be a fully realized "vengeance" tale if pathetic cop-outs like that were to happen now would it?
The tone of the movie is hopeless. Both main characters become overwhelmingly demoralized, dejected and despaired, and have pretty much lost all reason to live. The mood kind of gets to you, the viewer, as well. You watch the whole thing just hoping one or both protagonists gets put out of their misery -- not because the story or acting is bad, but because you just can't take any more of the suffering that they're experiencing. They're basically playing a game of Russian Roullete with a fully-loaded pistol. You know what's coming, and you just can't stop it... but then you think to yourself, "do I really want to stop this? As soon as that trigger's pulled the anguish will end." The only problem with that is that the movie is slooooooow. It takes a long time for that trigger to fire that final bullet and utterly end the sorrow.
Oh, and Mr. Vengeance has the MOST ANNOYING retard in cinema history among its cast. Seriously, you don't feel sorry for this handicapped mongo, you just want to stab him in the face with a pen a couple dozen times. Jesus what an annoying mentally fucked-up asshole!
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
What a gift horse's mouth of a different color this one was. Lady Vengeance is all about rooting and cheering on the lead character as she fulfills her vengeance quota of the year. You so fucking WANT Geum-ja (the vengencey lady in question) to kill the asshole (who wronged her) deader than a dog rummaging through the trash in the alley behind a Korean restaurant... And we get it. It's no secret that Geum-ja gets her revenge (hell, every character in the previous 2 revenge flicks by Park Chan-wook gets his revenge by the end), but what is so surprisingly shocking is how she goes about it. She's a lot more straight forward about it than her counterpart in Old Boy, that's for sure. She's kinda like Uma Thurman's character, the Bride, in Kill Bill. I'll now explain:
Guem-ja has just gotten out of prison. She's been locked up for 13 years for the murder of a small child. The thing is (duh) she didn't do the crime, but she had to confess to it or the real killer would kill her own young daughter. Well, so Guem-ja gets out, and immediately starts off on the necessary tasks at hand... That would be tracking down her daughter and making a bee-line for the bastard who made her take the fall in the first place. She doesn't beat around the bush either. Guem-ja doesn't really try to sneak around and set up a huge cat-and-mouse-like game for which to entrap the douchebag who wronged her; instead she uses some friends that she made in the slammer to help capture the pig (in a clever way mind you -- I mean it's not like she's all stupid about her revenge; she's had 13 years to think about how she was gonna do it. I just mean that the game of figuring out the capture-plan isn't the plot of the picture). Once she catches him, she puts on that heavy, red eye-shadow and lets the retribution begin.
I'll stop talking about the plot of Lady Vengeance now, since it's the actual revenge that makes up the cool factor of the movie. The things she does to this evil fucker are the stuff of legends. Guem-ja is perhaps even a bigger bad-ass than Uma's Bride. She hates this murderer more than anyone can possibly hate another human being... But we still sympathize with her (hence the title). Park Chan-wook is an amazing director. The pure malicious retribution that his heroine dishes out is just godawful... You pray to whatever deity who'll listen that you'll never have anybody do that shit to you. Yet you still cheer the woman on. And when it's all over (and boy-howdy does it get all over... the place), you feel exactly what the character feels... No, not remorse and regret! I told you before, this chick ain't no pussy! You feel relief and maybe some sadness that her life's mission, the reason she lived through the last 13 years of hell, is over... But we end on a fairly high note to let us know that Guem-ja will go on. She has another purpose in life by the time the credits roll. And no, douchebags, I didn't ruin jack shit for you. You will still crap your pants in awe after you witness this cinematic sweetness for yourself. Trust Uncle Rossman.
Do yourself a favor and watch both Sympathy for Mr./Lady Vengeance... Actually, do yourself a BIGGER favor and watch Old Boy too (if you're a retard and haven't already done so). Watch them in order. Not only does each get better than the previous, but you will find yourself at the end of Lady Vengeance with a sick (very sick) and twisted smile on your face... And hopefully, by the end of Lady, Mr. Vengeance will have been wiped a bit from your mind.
The Sympathetic KUNI
YES! Super Asian revenge time! Kuni once got revenge on Rossman. Rossman try to get Kuni to lick his toes after running five mile. Kuni got down, took off Rossman shoe, and then put honey on the toes, but not licked them off! Ha! Rossman stand there and shouted "NO! Bad Kuni! Nooo! No like honey on feet!" But Kuni smiles and think to self "Yes! Awesome!"
Kuni did not feel as awesome when Kuni see that somebody set Kuni's car on fire later in day. Kuni sad :( (Note from the Rossman: I swear to God that if the cops ask, I was in Guam that afternoon that Kuni's car got turned into a giant Molotov Coctail with his grandma still in the backseat. Seriously, she must have been lying down or some shit 'cause you could not see her in that thing at all!)
The UnLady-Like Vengeance
Ah, joy. These movies reminded me of that one day that the Rossman gave me a jar of "homemade honey," which I ate on my toast for lunch. I thought it had an unusual bite to it, and only found out later from Robot Pedro (after torturing the truth out of him with a paperclip, a letter opener, and a ficus) that the Rossman scraped the honey off of his sweaty, stinky, hairy, pukey feet earlier in the day after his daily 5-mile run...
Well, later on I casually stopped by the Rossman's office and asked him which car was his, telling him that I heard that somebody backed into a few of the cars in the parking lot and that the tow-truck was coming to take a few of the more damaged ones away. He told me that his was the '92, blue Cavalier with the bumper sticker "My Gram-Gram Loves Me More Than Yours Loves You." I told him that I'd go check both his and my car out, and I set his fucking ride on fire with a lit rag in his gas tank. He must have had some monster insurance on that thing though 'cause he was only a little bummed about it for a few days, but he never really said anything after that. Is there no way to take this menace down a notch?!