Having seen the excellent Oldboy by Chan-wook Park I was eager to see this movie on release. Unfortunately the screener I was passed was damaged and I decided to catch it at the weekend with everyone else.
My frame of mind was very much set in Oldboy, as I hadn’t seen the first in this linked, but not connected, trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. With that I felt would come much baggage as Oldboy is a superb movie filled with visually exciting scenes, intense emotions, and one surprising and quite shocking ending. So I was concerned if this movie would deliver even despite the local reviews I’d seen pitching this as an excellent five star film.
The opening scenes set the tone straight away, the cinematography is gorgeous once again and you realise that if anything this will just be a feast visually. Yet my hopes began to fade slightly as I found the film jumping around in timeline and storyline, never seemingly sitting in one place too long. It provided the feel of some very short films interconnected by a common theme. This style proved difficult to get a hold of and allow you into the movie, and it took a few of the character introduction scenes for me to realise what was happening and how the story was going to be told. Once I’d grasped the format then I understood a bit more and following the tale was easier.
It’s a shame for this first half of the film because the style is so unique, innovative and engaging for the audience, and yet the story loses pace and the film time because the audience are trying to get caught up and get into the style. Once you do though you start catching the moments of humour and emotion. You see those moments of connection between people, how they came about, and how they fit into the leads plan of vengeance without the plan or the wrong doing ever overriding the real story behind it, the people themselves and the emotion.
The film settles down about half way through and loses that broken feeling to become much more focussed on telling the tale in hand. In a way it’s quite disconcerting when a film pushes you in one direction starting to build a clear path in one direction, then halfway through the film changes completely, perhaps just because life is like that.
It’s here in the latter stages of the film that you begin to feel the real emotion and strength in the characters involved, and we see some of the finest emotional performances from the lead Yeong-ae Lee. She pulls out a superb performance which is only truly appreciable after viewing the latter half of the film, for this is where her character really struggles with the idea of vengeance and whether it is indeed for her to carry out.
The story is a really good one, and although it doesn’t hit home with the same power, style and cohesion that Oldboy did, it’s a very close attempt and a very strong one at that. It takes some interesting turns and mixes the same powerful emotive messages that Oldboy played with and adds a strong element of compassion and indeed humour, as many have said this is a more feminine look at vengeance.
Once again we are treated to a distinctly non black and white film with a similar ending, we neither have a clear sense of what is right or wrong and whether the characters have behaved in the moralistically right way. Instead we are given what life gives us, senses of grey and uncertainty.
The film is a very good one once you get into it, and provides us with another visually exciting film. I would recommend that there are no comparisons made with Oldboy when you do watch it. The idea of trilogy to the western cinema audience should be discarded, instead understand that these films explore the different sides of revenge and vengeance, and that may be their only connection (apart from the re-use of actors).