Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, or perhaps I was just falling asleep after the first hour of nothing, but I couldn’t understand about sixty percent of what occurred in “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.” Whether or not Park actually tells the story jumping from different time to time, I’ll never know, because characters I thought died pop up later, and events that suddenly never happened, leads to something unexpected. Park’s story is awfully disjointed to the point where I couldn’t even catch up.
So, rather than rewinding and trying to find a way in all the sub-plots, I instead just let it lead me where it intended to, and stopped trying. So, I was lost for a good portion of the time. Otherwise, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is never as interesting as Park intends it to be, and that’s because we follow characters that are kept at a safe distance. Characters like Ryu, who is never sympathetic or tragic, and the odd mentally disabled man that popped in and out of the movie, all of it was just so cold and dull. The attempts to garner an organ on the black market, his attempts to get a better job, and his relationship with his roommate, all just end up becoming soulless and tedious. I wanted to love “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” and even during utterly cringe-inducing violence like an Achilles tendon being sliced in half, and a grueling electrocution, it’s all just so dull and forgettable.
Park has many valuable insights to shed with his films, and one of the main themes of his Vengeance trilogy, from the utterly magnificent “Oldboy,” to his sub-par “Mr. Vengeance,” seems to be that if you seek an eye for an eye, you’ll end up with a lot of blind people. Or in other words, vengeance and revenge ends with a lot of bodies and very little resolution. So seems to be the common message for films he’s made stylized without being cartoonish. In spite of it all, “Mr. Vengeance” is a fascinating insight into the concept of revenge and how different people within this story seek it only to discover there is little satisfaction in it, nor is there anything to be proud of once you’ve committed it.
The characters in Wook’s “Mr. Vengeance” are ugly, and gruesome, and this keeps the story grounded in reality once the body count rises. Wook’s direction is, as always a combination of gruesome and surreal, and he manages to invoke a sense of sweetness and disgust within every frame, and the horrible torture the ensues for some of the characters we set down on. Here, Park is simply not there. With “Oldboy” there was an indefinable energy, where as “Mr. Vengeance” is struggling for an identity. Is it a drama, a thriller, or a revenge tale? I could never figure it out. In spite of the message Wook shares, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is a disappointing, dull, and often tedious examination of different people seeking different forms of revenge in a life filled with dead ends, and tragedy.