Over the weekend I was lucky enough to go to a screening of The Vengeance Trilogy at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. Director Park Chan-wook’s trilogy is made up of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) and although they aren’t connected through storyline they have similarities in the actors used as well as the themes. Having only seen Oldboy before I took this as an opportunity to try writing my first (of hopefully many) features on film series.
So without further ado, enjoy as I try to sum up 6 hours worth of film in one article.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
The first in the Korean trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance tells the story of Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a young deaf mute who, after finding out he can’t donate one of his kidneys to his suffering sister, soon finds himself playing kidnapper to his ex boss, Dong-jin’s daughter in a bid to use the ransom to pay for a kidney on the black market. However after the plan goes awry, Dong-jin soon comes looking for revenge.
With slow but promising start, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance begins to pick up pace after the first half hour with brutal violence and interesting scenery. However as hard as the film tries, it doesn’t quite grab as much attention that it clearly wants. With long, silent scenes which seem to take long breaks from the storyline for no apparent reason. The ambiguous ending is almost a sigh of relief after several suggestions that the credits will soon start rolling. Performance wise it’s nothing particularly brilliant. Shin Ha-kyun’s role of Ryu is perhaps the most interesting, but credit must also go to the young Bo-bae Han as Ryu’s child hostage, Yu Sun.
In all, it’s a satisfying revenge film with a couple of particularly pleasant scenes for gore lovers which with a more gripping storyline could have had real potential.
Perhaps the most well known of the trilogy, Oldboy really does live up to it’s hype. Chan-wooks strongest film in this trilogy is the one with the most interesting storyline as Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and locked away for 15 years before being released and given a phone and some money, but no explanation for his kidnapping. As Oh Dae-su is thrown back into the world with no family to go back to, he tries desperately to piece together what his captors motive is with the help of sushi chef Mi-do.
A Hollywood remake is already being planned for this surprise hit and it’s easy to see why. With an absolutely brilliant storyline filled with twists and turns and shocking revelations as well as a fantastic corridor fight scene it is easily one of the greatest thrillers of recent years. Choi Min-sik’s performance as Oh Dae-su is almost Oscar worthy and is an absolute treat to see on the big screen. With such a strong performance it’s almost satisfying to see that Min-sik has not turned his career down the usual Hollywood route, instead sticking to his roots in Korean film.
The climax will leave you completely dumbstruck and satisfied and if you don’t leave with the knowledge that you’ve watched something close to perfection then I strongly suggest you give this film another try. After my second viewing I had a rare occurrence where I had to bump up my original rating of the film but it’s a mistake I’m willing to admit to.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
After nearly two hours of Oldboy it was onto the third and final film of Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance which was going to have to be almost as good as, if not on par with Oldboy, to keep this critic awake for another two hours at 4am. And it didn’t disappoint.
The final instalment centres around Lee Geum-ja, who upon being released thirteen years after being arrested for the murder of a young boy, decides to exact her revenge on the real killer whom she took the blame for. Of the whole trilogy Lady Vengeance is definitely the most beautifully shot of the three, with an opening of rich colours soon transforming into a more dull, serious tone as the story begins to descend into darker territories. The theme of kidnapping is used again and towards the latter half the plot soon deepens into something much more than just the revenge of Lee Geum-ja. To say any more would perhaps be giving away spoilers to a film which really deserves to be seen without any reveals. As the story moves on it seems to take its time only to be slightly let down by the climax which after such a build up is the only slight disappointment.
However all that aside it’s a worthy end to an interesting trilogy, keeping the theme of revenge and kidnapping strong in the storyline and with another great central performance, this time by Lee Young Ae as the troubled and determined Lee Geum-ja