Park Chan-wook is known as the bad boy of Korean cinema. Chan-wook is a former film critic who gained world wide acclaim for producing, writing, and directing what has now become known as The Vengeance Trilogy. This trilogy is tied together by common overall themes rather than through its characters. The most well known of the three films, Oldboy, garnered the director a devoted cult following in the United States. While Oldboy stands as the most recognized of the trilogy, the opening installment Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, has been grossly overlooked.
The story of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance follows Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf and mute man who has a sister that needs a kidney transplant. At first Ryu tries to donate his own kidney to her. However, when he finds out that he has the wrong blood type, he attempts to go through the black market where they promise him a kidney transplant for his sister and 10,000,000 won in return for one of his own kidneys. The deal goes awry, so Ryu and his revolutionary girlfriend, Cha Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), plot to kidnap the daughter of his boss Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho).
There have been many movies about vengeance, and with only a few notable exceptions (such as Tarantino's Kill Bill) most vengeance films that come out these days feel repetitive as it's all been done before. The brilliance of each part of Chan-wook's trilogy is that they're highly unconventional for movies dealing with this subject matter. Borrowing from whodunit flicks and Hitchcock, in the end you question the identity of the protagonist and antagonist of the story. The vengeance genre always thrives on the idea of gray areas, but you always have a strong sense of who's at fault. That's not the case with a Park Chan-wook film because the bad guy could very well be the one in need of revenge.
The acting in this film is equally as brilliant as Park's direction and script. Many people may assume that playing deaf and mute might be easier than working with a speaking part, that couldn't be further from the truth. Having to convey a character's emotions, thoughts, and convictions without uttering a single word or sound is extremely difficult, but you never once question Ryu's beliefs or his devotion and inner struggle for his sister. Song Kang-ho, an acclaimed South Korean actor who worked with Chan-wook on his first film, Joint Security Area and in the acclaimed monster comedy-horror flick, The Host, also performs brilliantly as the tortured father whose daughter is kidnapped by our protagonist.
If you still have yet to check out Oldboy, I highly suggest you see this one first. Although if you have seen Oldboy, then make sure you check this out to see where it all started. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a wild ride. If these movies had been made in America, they would have revolutionized the idea of the vengeance flick forever.