Welcome to a special edition of Groovers & Mobsters Present. The saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” has probably been around since the nineteenth century. A variation appeared in the classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, it was popularised in the novel/film The Godfather and in Kill Bill Quentin Tarantino told us it is an old Klingon proverb. Park Chan-wook has his own ideas on vengeance and revenge:
복수는 나의 것 – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
By Kai from THE LIST:
What can I say? ANDY over there at the FANDANGO GROOVERS MOVIE BLOG must really like me cause he’s asked me back on to his ongoing genre study to discuss REVENGE FILMS. Today, we’ve narrowed it down even further to focus on Park Chan-Wook’s Revenge Trilogy which I recently picked as #4 of my Top 5 all time trilogies when I guest hosted the Matineecast (which you can hear by clicking here). This trilogy is not an ongoing story told over 3 films… rather it is 3 seperate tales of revenge as told by one visionary director. I have been tasked with talking about the first of the 3:
Here’s the basic idea behind this story:
Ryu, who happens to be deaf and dumb, loves and cares for his sister who is in need of a kidney transplant. He offers his own but their blood types do not match. Luckily, or unluckily, he meets a group of illegal black market organ dealers who offer to get his sister a kidney in exchange for his and a good chunk of cash… around 10 million Won. Ryu agrees but does not have the money. When he’s laid off from his job, his anarchist revolutionary girlfriend suggests they kidnap his ex-bosses daughter and use the ransom to save his sister. These events lead to a tragedy that sets off a series of unfortunate events.
Love to tell you more but don’t want to ruin this gem for anyone. Watching it again recently, I was blown away by how good and twisted it is even after multiple viewings. I will say this, Park Chan-Wook does not tell stories with happy endings. However, the guy can spin one hell of a yarn. This trilogy is his magnum opus. Each film even has it’s own style. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the darkest, grittiest and most indie feeling of the bunch. A dark tale told in a dark way.
I do like to warn people as well that the Koreans are not afraid to show violence and sexuality in their films… and Chan-Wook even tends to take it one step farther. Still, if you can put that aside and watch this film, you will not be disappointed!
올드보이 – Oldboy (2003)
Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped and locked up in a mysterious prison cell (that looks like a cheep hotel room) with no explanation why. Fifteen years later he is released as suddenly as he was captured and with equally little explanation. He is given a black suit, a mobile phone, a wallet full of cash and a challenge to discover who imprisoned him. But is the real question not why was he imprisoned but why he was released? The tagline read “15 years of imprisonment, five days of vengeance” but who is looking for vengeance, Dae-su or the people who imprisoned him?
In its simplest form the film explores the lengths people will go to for vengeance but there is so much more going on. Beautifully shot and impeccably constructed and paced, you take more from it every time you see it. Each twist and turn could have come across as ridiculous but doesn’t, the film always feels real and grounded, this is because each revelation is so perfectly timed. People talk about the now infamous live octopus eating scene or the often imitated corridor fight scene but the same attention to detail is present throughout the movie; to condense a key development down to the images in a photo album or show the passing of fifteen years through world evens on TV is pure genius in its simplicity. The action is simple and visceral but always effective, the visuals are beautiful and immaculately constructed and choreographed even when they are grim.
If you are not repulsed by some of the things that happen in this movie there is something wrong with you but the overall result is so compelling and enthralling that it really doesn’t matter. With an ending that simultaneously pulls the rug from under you and kicks you in the gut the movie is truly devastating, it will live with you long after you have seen it. And what does all this tell us about vengeance? That’s something you will have to decide for yourself but it certainly explores the lengths people will go to for revenge as well as the futility of it. A film Hollywood could never have envisaged and should never remake!
친절한 금자씨 – Lady Vengeance (2005)
There’s no better authority on revenge than Chan Wook Park. This master of Korean cinema has an excellent read on human nature, and he covers the whole range of this very powerful impulse with his Revenge Trilogy. In his various installments he covers the revenge of rivals, family, and those who’ve been wronged unintentionally. Each one approaches the topic of vengeance from a different angle—some instances being more understandable or justified than others. I find his final chapter, Lady Vengeance, to be the most morally black-and-white of the trio. The bad guys are pure evil and the good guys are given a carte blanche to take them down. In this installment Park addresses maybe the most merciless permutation of the lot: the revenge of a betrayed lover—specifically, the revenge of a woman. He knows that no one holds a grudge longer than a woman. There’s no slight she’ll forget and no offense she won’t take personally. A woman will mull over a betrayal for years, waiting for the perfect moment to exact her pound of flesh. But all that time and calculation makes her moment of reprisal all the more delicious.
But the unwavering intensity of Park’s revenge sequences isn’t what makes his trilogy so powerful. He has the gift of letting viewers feel the pain of his characters for themselves. There’s not one chapter of this trilogy that hasn’t broken my heart, but Lady Vengeance always has me crying openly. Geum-ja has been betrayed by her lover. He tricked her into taking the heat for a murder he committed—the suffocation of a 5-year-old boy—and she’s had 13 years in prison to think about how she’ll make him pay for it. But when she gets out and starts to put her plan into motion, she discovers just how deep his depravity really runs. And we wallow in despair right along side all his victims. I guess the empathy Park makes us feel is necessary since we’re supposed to approve of Geum-ja’s vigilante justice. Don’t worry—you will. You’d be next in line for your turn with this guy if you were given the chance. The catharsis is complete, and it provides perfect closure for this final installment in what I consider to be the definitive treatise on vengeance. But while Chan Wook Park does make a point that the drive for revenge may universal, his nonchalant use of ghosts throughout the trilogy emphasizes the fact that his stories are still uniquely Korean.