Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the first instalment of Park's trilogy...
The story concerns Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun, JSA and Save the Green Planet), a deaf mute who, when not toiling away at a menial job in a steelworks, spends most of his time caring for his terminally ill sister. Unless a suitable kidney donor can be found his sister will surely die, but as Ryu himself is incompatible he decides to turn to the black market for help. He makes contact with a seedy mother and son(s) team of backstreet-butchers who agree to provide a healthy organ for his sister, in exchange for ten million won and one of his own kidneys. However, when he awakens from the surgery he finds himself alone in a disused warehouse, minus both his life savings and his kidney! To make matters worse, the hospital informs him that a compatible donor has been found and that all he needs to do to save his sister’s life is to come up with the money for the transplant—exactly ten million won!
With no legal avenues through which to obtain the money, a desperate Ryu turns to his activist girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Doo-na) who devises a plan to kidnap the daughter of wealthy industrialist Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho, JSA and The Host). Their plan is simple: hold the girl, Yoo-sun, hostage until her father pays a ransom of twenty six million won. In Yeong-mi’s words, this is just the ‘redistribution of wealth’. Things run smoothly until Ryu’s sister uncovers the plot, at which point a series of events are set into motion that lead to tragedy on all sides. To say any more would ruin the film for those that haven’t seen it, but suffice to say that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance isn't for the faint-hearted.
Palisades Tartan's Blu-ray release of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance arrives with a theatrically accurate 2.35:1 aspect ratio transfer (1080/24p AVC). As expected the Blu-ray transfer shares much in common with Tartan's most recent DVD release, which means that the framing is slightly different to the original Korean DVD. However, you're unlikely to notice any major differences without a side-by-side comparison, and the changes don't dramatically alter the composition of shots. Colour rendition is also very similar to the DVD release, which means a very natural palette with the occasional intentional shift to green. Of course the improvements offered by Blu-ray mean that hues are just that little bit stronger and more natural than their DVD counterparts, and although the blacks are generally strong there are a couple of exceptions, but this was also the case on DVD.
Detail is also fairly good, and a clear step up from any standard definition version of the film. Fine grain is visible throughout, but it’s unobtrusive and consistent with the feature’s intended look. On the negative side there’s still a spot of edge enhancement, the occasional spec on the print, and I noticed at least one small encoding error, but we’re not talking anything that should seriously hamper your enjoyment of the film. I have to admit to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of this transfer, which is easily the best looking home version of the film to date. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the packaging erroneously listed this as BD25, when it is in fact a BD50 with almost 30GB of occupied space.
The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly active for such a dialogue-heavy picture, with numerous ambient effects used to create an extremely immersive experience. Be it the hustle and bustle of the busy city streets (with accompanying multi-directional traffic), the sound of rainfall, or the gentle breeze of a summer’s day, there’s always something going on in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In fact, sound is used to craft some very memorable sequences, many of which deal with Ryu’s disability, transporting the listener into his world at key moments. During Ryu’s first meeting at the hospital the heavy rainfall and patronising shouting of the doctor give way to the silence of his world, and this is an effect that is repeated time and time again throughout the film.
Another impressive example is the first trip to the factory in which Ryu works. This lengthy sequence is filled with the constant cacophony of machinery and plays out with absolutely no dialogue, which further serves to highlight Ryu’s introvert personality and alienation from his surroundings. It’s also worth noting that there is very little music used throughout the film, but when it is employed it is to great effect. I mentioned earlier that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a dialogue-heavy picture, and thankfully it comes across clearly save for scenes where it is intentionally muffled. I did notice one small audio dropout at the very beginning of the autopsy scene, but apart from that everything was fine.
As for the subtitles, well they are very good, translating everything of importance with few to no spelling or grammatical errors. One of the biggest problems with the Korean Special Edition was its failure to provide translations for the Korean text found throughout the film (such as Yeong-mi’s computer display, the note left by Ryu’s sister, the sign language etc.). This definitely contributed to some of the confusion I experienced when I first viewed the film years ago, but everything is much clearer with the full subtitles in place.
The Process of Mr. Vengeance' (32:06 SD) serves as a ‘making of’ featuretet. It starts off with a short segment in which Shin Ha-kyun and Bae Du-na visit a sign language school to learn how to talk with their hands, before moving on to behind-the-scenes footage from the set in which Bae Du-na has a mini-breakdown after failing to sign coherently. More interview footage follows, in which we hear from all of the principal actors and learn that Shin Ha-kyun and Bae Du-na had a bit of a thing going. The next segment deals with the special effects process, detailing how some of the gorier moments were accomplished. The featurette ends with a look at the cameos by Ryu Seung-beom and his brother Ryu Seung-wan, who also choreographed a short fight scene between Shin and Bae. It’s also worth mentioning that the original Korean release allowed you to view this featurette as four distinct chapters, but there’s no such option here.
'My Boksu Story Retrospective' (17:22 SD) includes interviews in which the actors discuss the filmmaking experience. Again, these were available to view individually on the Korean release, but here they’re all lumped together. The written cast profiles are also missing, but it’s still nice to have an English-subtitled version of the interviews.
A series of 'Crew Interviews' (40:03 SD) follow. These interviews were available to view individually on the Korean Special Edition, which made them a little easier to digest than sitting through them all in one sitting. We hear from director Park Chan-wook, who discusses the evolution of the film, along with the cinematographic process. There’s more of this from the DP, who explains the difference between the Super 35 and anamorphic formats, and the difficulties of shooting in the latter. The lighting director also pops up to discuss his part in creating the look of the picture.
Rounding out the features we have a number of storyboards (09:57 SD) and the film's original theatrical trailer (01:47 SD). These are fine for what they are, but neither is likely to bring you back for repeat viewings.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is undoubtedly the least ‘flashy’ in Park’s ‘Vengeance Trilogy’, but it is no less impressive than its counterparts. Thanks to Tartan’s untimely demise this Blu-ray release was a long time coming, but I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. There are one or two minor issues, such as the brief video and audio glitches and lack of audio commentary, but on the whole it’s a great looking and sounding disc and a worthy addition to any Asian cinema collection.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 2nd November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean
Extras: The Process of Mr. Vengeance: Making of, My Boksu Story Retrospective, Crew Interviews, Storyboards, Original Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doo-na
Length: 121 minutes
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