Thoughts on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Saturday, April 10, 2010 3:41 PM By Simon

Who, do you think, was the hero in this movie? At first, I thought it was Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), the poor, deaf, mute kid who just wanted to save his sister, who is never named(Lim Ji-eun). I mean, the movie opens with him having his bed-ridden sister listen to his letter telling her he was giving his kidney being read on the radio. We only get a brief glimpse of them actually listening, but it's a very sweet, very heartbreaking moment.

He is further set up as our dogged hero when we see the life he lives, working a factory job to pay his sister's medical expenses, hanging out with his girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), a radical leftist. In one scene, we see four boys, ears against the thin walls, jacking off to what they think is a woman getting some. The camera pans over, and we see it is Ryu's apartment, where he eats some noodles and his sister screams in agony, what I assume is the disease she has. That is what his life is like.

He had ten million won (Korean money, not as much as it sounds), as severence pay for his job, which he gets fired from at the most inconveniant time ever. But then he gave it to a group of black market organ dealers, along with his kidney (whcih couldn't go to his sister, wrong blood type), in exchange for one for his sister. He ends up naked in an abandoned parking garage, left out to dry. Then, not long after, a kidney is available for his sister, and, naturally, the surgery will cost ten million won.

But then, that Thing happens. I will not elaborate on this Thing, because I wouldn't want to spoil this imense spoiler to anyone who hasn't seen it. But know, fair folks, this is a big fucking Thing.

Anyways, the Thing happens, and I find myself unable to take a side. That might be the brilliance of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, the pure ambiguity of the protaganists, whether you feel they are right, and what does it say about you? On the one hand, you have Ryu who, by the end, is so wounded, and sad, and has suffered so many losses and, besides, you've been with him since the start, and you don't know what to think of his end. He has green hair, people. That must count for something.

But then, there's Dong-jin. Played fantastically by Song Kang-ho, he is the person most effected, emotionally, I guess, by the aftermath of the Thing (I just realized, saying what the Thing is might not even be a spoiler, because I now realize it's on the back of the DVD cover, but nonetheless). He, a guy not quite as innocent as Ryu, but innocent in that he was part of this Thing by proxy alone. He happened to be friendly with the original target, and that was his only crime against Ryu. I'm not going to start on who's loss is greater, who really deserved their revenge, whatever, this is not a debate on who is the eponymous Mr. Vengeance (which might not even be the literal title). This is just a thought.

Everybody gets their revenge in the end. Ryu against the organ dealers, Dong-jin against Ryu, and certain people against Dong-jin. But, in the end, it didn't solve much, did it?

So, maybe a feel a bit sorrier for Ryu, because he was not a bad guy. Even Dong-jin, not a bad guy either, acknowledges this. He's a victim of circumstance, he started out with the best intentions. But Dong-jin, he didn't start out with any intentions. He just happened to be standing there.

And, now I can't remember why I was writing this in the first place. Well.