Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mega ToWatchPile Update Part San (3) - Vengeance!

Alright guys, this is a wicked long post, but I've decided I don't want to break it up. It's a review of Chan-Wook Park's Vengeance trilogy, which I've just finished watching for the #towatchpile. I watched them completely out of order but I'm a little glad I did. Finishing on Mr Vengeance was a good way to go in my opinion, but I'll get to that. Let me start at the beginning. Once upon a time I decided to ask bloggers to suggest movies that they believe must be watched. I received quite a few suggestions, enough for me to add a button to the side of my blog.

Then one day the wunderbar @MattSuzaka of Chuck Norris Ate my Baby found the call for suggestions and took it upon himself to pave the way to the road to great films. And yea, he didst provide a list. And on that list was Chan-Wook Park's Oldboy. And the Rach didst watch the film and didst cry out!
"YEA! What the fuck was that???"
All did rejoice for Rach was on the path to movie salvation.
And a voice came from the @Heavenztrash (see what I did there?).
"You know its part of a trilogy?"
And Rach understood her journey had only just begun.

Note to self: if you break out into biblical verse, it is time to go to bed.

So, now we skip forward a month and I've finally seen the other two films. I'm going to get this out of the way first. There's an ongoing discussion on the the webbynets about which film from the trilogy is the best. Well, I genuinely feel that the films all benefit greatly when considering them together, but I'm gonna add my 2 cents to the minority and say that I preferred Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. My reasons will become clear later in the review, so lets get started.

The trilogy, for those who haven't seen it, is all about vengeance. I'm not going do a synopsis for each, it's basically three different stories that all focus on different reasons for vengeance, as well as the different ways the vengeance is obtained. There's also three different types of endings, but I'll leave that for a special "spoiler" paragraph.

These films are what I like to call "slow burn" movies (see my review of Grace), and Chan-Wook Park is the slow-burn master. It's not that he "keeps you guessing", movies that keep "keep you guessing" have a use-by date. Instead, he creates a tension with such subtlety that you have no idea it's happening until the cat knocks something over and your heart stops. You find yourself watching the next film with trepidation because you realize how involved you're going to get, and what that's going to do to you after it's finished. In each case the movies leave your mind ticking over at a hundred miles. I replayed parts of each film over and over in my head, savoring it and the genius behind it.

In this age of large, blue monkeys and their flying lizard friends, 3D, explosions, effects, and every other trick designed to make you forget that movies are supposed to have a plot, the use of artistic techniques like slowly draining the color from a film (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) or minimizing background music to allow moments of genuinely awkward silence (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) seem almost new. A breath of fresh air, if you will. I also have to mention the clever use of comedy found in the trilogy. It's a very clever way to control tension levels.


You've been warned.
The different types of vengeance shown in the trilogy. What can I say? I'm going to go through it in the order I watched it. The ending to Oldboy has already been listed as my favorite ZOMG moment in film. It's such a grey-area ending! In the same way that Oh Dae-Su is manipulated to fall for Mi-do, we are manipulated to sympathize with Oh Dae-Su. Hence the ZOMG reaction.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is very straight forward by comparison, though it would definitely have its haters. It seems to suggest that vengeance can be curative, and that there is a place for it. What I love though, is that the ending is bittersweet. The families know that they still have to live with what they have done.

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Phew. Bleak is the word. This movie is about vengeance out of honor more than vengeance out of any real hatred. And that makes it all the more painful to watch. When Park Dong-jin tells Ryu that he's a nice enough fella but he has to kill him anyway, it's heartbreaking.


So why do I prefer Sympathy for Mr Vengeance? Well, technically I don't, I prefer to think of the trilogy as a whole, but there are a number of reasons. Firstly, the ending. I'm one of the people who prefers Empire Strikes Back because of the bleak ending. I prefer an ending to be clever more than happy. Secondly, it was the best example of a slow-burn film out of the three. So much messiness, slowly, slowly building the tension, giving you wallowing time. This is not a film for an impatient person. And lastly its the way sympathy for Ryu is built through juxtaposing the uncomfortable silences with noisy events that he can't hear.

In short, I loved Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, but Sympathy for Mr Vengeance was one of the smartest works of art I've seen.

So, I've put Thirst on my list, what other Chan-Wook Park films do I need to see?


  1. Well, to answer your question, you can check out I'm A Cyborg, but that's OK, which is not nearly as good as the vengeance films, but pretty decent and way different than most films you will see.

    Now, I noticed that you said the color draining Lady Vengeance is the one you watched? I have never seen the one that slowly loses color and I have been wanting to real bad. It is going to be included on the upcoming ultimate Vengeance trilogy box set in March...which is what I was waiting for.

    Great review of all the films and I am super happy that you enjoyed them and not many people can appreciate the slow burn of Sympathy on first viewing, so kudos to you and thanks for calling me wunderbar!

  2. I'd definitely second I'm A Cyborg, it's a lot of crazy fun.