TRASH CINEMA RECOMMENDED MOVIE
Ryu’s sister is dying from kidney failure. Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) has been let go from his soul-killing factory job and has no way to find a donor or pay for the operation even if he does. Finally, he runs out of options and decides to arrange a kidnapping to pay for the operation. Everything goes to hell, leading to the vengeance of the title. By the way, Sympathy for Mister Vengeance is a comedy.
Yes, a comedy. Probably one of the blackest comedies ever made. If you are prone to depression or are suicidally inclined, I don’t recommend Sympathy for Mister Vengeance, but in it’s own unbelievably bleak way, it is quite funny.
A source of much of the humor is the absolute absence of compassion from anyone concerning Ryu’s predicament. Since Ryu doesn’t have the money to pay for his sister’s operation, the hospital administrator can’t wait to get him out of his office. You can see it in his face. A black market organ dealer, after Ryu kindly helps her administer a drug injection because her hands are shaking too badly for her to do it herself, does something that is incredibly callous, even considering the business she’s in. All of these actions are performed with a minimum of expression. It seems that South Korea is a nation of Buster Keatons, the original great stone face. That makes the goings on even more amusing in a cut-your-throat kind of way.
You see, all of this lack of compassion is due to the brutally capitalistic nature of Korean society. Unlike the United States, the Korean government never even attempted to create a social safety net, which is basically a Socialist idea in the first place.
One of the comic high points of the movie are the convoluted Marxist arguments Ryu’s girlfriend Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) makes to justify the kidnapping to the reluctant Ryu.
Oddly enough, the kidnap victim himself, Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song), happens to be almost as poor as the kidnappers. Being wealthy, the intended kidnap victim was too well protected, so the kidnappers had to go with their second choice. So, in the quest for economic justice, the members of the working class ends up hurting each other while the rich go on their merry way. Sound familiar?
Another aspect to Sympathy For Mr Vengeance is an ever-present spirit of philosophical enquiry. The movie asks over and over, when is vengeance not justified? What if the person meant no harm and had a really compelling need? How about if the loss you want to avenge came about accidentally? What if the person responsible humbly and sincerely apologized? What if you were partially to blame for your loss?
Anyway, you’ve got to admire how beautifully Sympathy for Mister Vengeance is constructed and how elegantly it’s filmed. As we’re used to by now in Korean films, it’s beautifully acted and scored. Despite the glints of humor here and there, what you’re left with by the closing credits is an overwhelming sadness at the brutality of modern life.
Is that a recommendation? If you go to the movies to have a good time, probably not. If you truly love movies as an art form, then yes, it is.
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