Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance ★★★★½

My experience with the Vengeance Trilogy is shaped by the way I saw Oldboy: in the middle of a 24 hour movie marathon alongside such easy watches as Haute Tension and The Passion of the Christ. I have a high transgression threshold but that night pushed me right up against it. I saw the other two Vengeance movies soon afterwards but I was predisposed to squirm.

That’s a fair place to be for Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but with my eyes half-closed from the beginning I didn’t pick up on Park Chan-wook’s chilly empathy. He goes deep into the squalor of South Korean poverty but as always, he’s not just rubbing our face in it for the sake of extremity. It’s important that we understand why Ryu is making horrible bloody decisions: he doesn’t have half a chance in the face of South Korea’s turn of the millennium neoliberal success story.

Equally, Park Dong-jin (a magnificent Song Kang-ho performance) is part of the problem — class warfare is pretty key here — but also helpless to fix anything. He tries to save the one child; it doesn’t work. I’m oddly reminded of Fassbinder’s critique of post-war Germany. It’s good to escape dictatorship, but civilian control isn’t a guarantee of freedom.

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