Jake Sulpice


Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Watched on

Ryu and Yeong-mi sit in bed against the wall.

Is a boiled pig afraid of boiling water?

In the bubbling new wave of South Korean cinema, a tale of desperation and retribution unfolds in Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” a film that paints a harrowing portrait of human suffering and the cyclical nature of violence. The movie weaves together the lives of three individuals, each trapped in a web of their own misfortunes.

Ryu, a deaf-mute factory worker, desperately seeks to save his debilitated sister, whose failing kidney threatens to shatter their lives. Blinded by love, Ryu agrees with his anarchist girlfriend to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman associated with the manager who fires him from his factory job, hoping to secure the funds for her life-saving transplant by way of ransom. However, his poorly designed scheme sets in motion a chain of events that spirals into a whirlwind of violence and anguish.

There are good kidnappings and bad kidnappings.

Amidst the chaos and carnage, Chan-wook masterfully interlaces moments of tenderness and humanity, providing glimpses of the character’s vulnerabilities and the wretched lengths to which they are driven. This is most evident with Park, the abducted daughter’s father, who goes to extremes to go eye for eye with her captor, driven entirely by his pain and sorrow, which are put on wide display through his visibly shaken emotions.

Yu-Sun floats in the riverbed against a rock.

The film’s raw emotional intensity is further amplified by its striking visual style, characterized by stark cinematography, evocative camerawork, and a haunting musical score that only strengthens the movie’s cohesion. As the story unfolds, the lines between victim and villain blur, challenging you to question your own moral compass. I went into this knowing nothing about it and was certainly surprised to find that Ryu was not the titular character, considering his lust for revenge against the organ traders in the first act.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an elaborate yet harmonious tale of despair, a relentlessly brutal study of the human condition. Though some scenes may be vivid and uncomfortable, such as the ankle and electrocution scenes, the method by which Park Chan-wook delivers this startling exploration is astounding and evokes a conscious reaction in you that stays for some time after the finale. I’d safely place Oldboy as the trilogy’s frontrunner, but Mr. Vengeance isn’t too far behind, with Lady Vengeance slightly placed third in my ranking. I’d absolutely recommend this film to those who appreciate others in the Korean thriller pantheon, like Oldboy or Parasite.

I know you’re a good guy… but you know why I have to kill you.

Ryu and Dong-jin stand in the water.