Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, Lady Vengeance)

Director - Park Chan-wook

Cast - Young-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Ha-kyun Shin

Country of Origin - South Korea

Discs - 8

MSRP - $49.99

Distributor - Palisades-Tartan

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

The Films (5/5)

     Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy is quite possibly the most popular foreign film trilogy of the last decade (unless you count Lord of the Rings as foreign).  It was released by Tartan Video on DVD in the U.S., and the 2nd film of the trilogy (Oldboy) was released to Blu-ray at the time.  Recently Tartan Video was merged with Palisades Films to become Palisades-Tartan, and one of the first things out of the gate is this epic sized Vengeance trilogy release in BOTH DVD and Blu-ray.

     All 3 films in this thematic trilogy deal with the idea and repercussions of revenge.  And they all take a different approach in doing so, so the films while thematically linked never feel repetitive.  The performances all across the board are quite masterful, and the direction by Chan-Wook is masterful, and at times hypnotic.  While the films deal with pretty heavy themes (rape, child abuse/death, revenge, etc) they are all infinitely rewatchable.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

     The first film in the Vengeance trilogy is the 2nd one I had seen, having seen Oldboy based on word of mouth, so when I heard Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was the first film in the yet to be completed (at the time)  “Oldboy” trilogy I knew I had to see it.  I went in expecting something akin to Oldboy,  what I got originally disappointed me, but like the best films tend to do, it got stuck in my head.  For days after my initial viewing I was walking around with this film in my head, it was shocking and gory, but it was dramatic.  This is a film without a hero, and everyone in a way is a victim.  Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a tragedy for all involved.

     Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance focuses on Ryu, a deaf mute whose sister is on her deathbed due to a kidney disorder.  He is working at a factory to pay for medical expenses, but it is just not enough.  She is soon discharged into his care due to his inability to pay her bills.  In  a moment of desperation Ryu turns to the black market to get a kidney for his sister that matches her blood type.  He offers the sellers 10,000 dollars and one of his own kidneys in exchange.  Unfortunately for Ryu things to not go as planned, he is rendered unconscious,  his money, and his kidney are taken. 

     The situation becomes more desperate than ever, and to add insult to (literal) injury Ryu is laid off from his factory job.  This is when his girlfriend concocts an idea, to raise the money for his sisters operation; they will kidnap the daughter of his former employer and hold her for ransom.  This will be what they call a “friendly” kidnapping, the boss will pay them, they will get the money, and he will get his girl, no harm done to everyone.  Of course, it does not go as planned, and the failed kidnapping sends his former boss on a mission to seek revenge on Ryu and his girlfriend.

     As you can tell this is not the happiest of films, it is however, an amazing film.  It is slow at times, but never boring. Park keeps you glued to the screen with so many plot twists it is near impossible to see where he is going.  There is no good/bad in this film it is a film about sadness and desperation and what people will do in the most desperate of situations.   It is a very hard film to watch, but which sticks with you, and definitely warrants multiple viewings to uncover all of its many intricacies.

 

Oldboy

     Oldboy is 100% Awesome!

     Oldboy is the first film of the Vengeance Trilogy that I viewed.  It is a film I regret not hearing about sooner.  In June 2006 the Sarasota Film Society showed Oldboy as a limited engagement.  I was looking for a birthday movie that year, but because of my distaste for SFS programming I didn’t go.  You see the Sarasota Film Society tends to program with their eye towards more tourist friendly independent fare, and so films like Oldboy are rarely seen in their theaters. 

     It wasn’t until months later during the lead up to Tartan’s initial DVD release that I started hearing more about it.  The DVD was cheap so I pre-ordered it, when it arrived my mind was blown.  I could not believe I had missed the opportunity to see this in theaters.  It was a perfect blend of action and story.  It had characters that while you couldn’t fully relate to them, could at least understand their plight.  

     It is a film that had so many layers to it, that multiple viewings were not just desired, they were needed to peel through all the films intricacies.  Oldboy is a film that draws you in with its moments of shocking, thrilling, visceral action sequences, and keeps your ass in the seat with a perfectly structured plot, that twists and turns at every corner.  It also works well the first time, but actually improves with subsequent viewings.  

     The direction from now third time director Park Chan Wook was near perfect.  The film looked great, and flowed at a solid pace, never leaving us with a boring moment.  The acting from leads Min-sik Choi and Hye-jeong Kang really ground the film, and they and the rest of the cast are quite believable in their respective roles.  They gave the characters, with all their various intricacies and motivations a true life of their own.  These are characters with depth.

     Oldboy tells the story of Dae-su Oh, a drunken derelict of a man, who cares for no one but himself.  On his young daughters birthday he finds himself arrested for public drunkenness, and held in a police station.  Upon release he is kidnapped, and placed in a private prison constructed just for him, where he is to be kept for 15 years.  During those 15 years he gets himself in shape, and works toward escape.  On the night he is to escape, he finally finds himself freed.  He is giving a cell phone, new clothes, money, and five days to figure out who imprisoned him.  He does with the help of Mi-do a young Sushi chef that he begins to fall in love with.

Lady Vengeance

    And now we come to my favorite part of the Vengeance trilogy Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.  While I think that Oldboy is the very best part of the Vengeance trilogy, I personally find Lady Vengeance to be my favorite.  It’s a particular deep film that combines the drama and pace of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and combines it with the intricate plotting of Oldboy to create something, that is technically thematically similar to the prior 2 films, but also quite the departure from what came before.

    Lady Vengeance tells the story of Geum-ja(Yeong-ae Lee), a woman who was imprisoned at the age of 19 for the murder of a child.  She is released after 13 years in prison, and as it turns out, was innocent of the crime for which she was arrested.  The real murderer is Mr. Baek who is played with great intensity by Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi. He is Geum-ja’s former school teacher who takes her in after her parents her out upon the discovery that she has become pregnant. 

     It turns out that Mr. Baek is a child killer, who holds children for ransom (with a plot element that harkens back to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), and kills them even if their parents agree to the payment.  When the police begin to close in on him, he blackmails Geum-ja into taking the fall, by threatening her daughter’s life. Upon release it becomes Geum-ja’s single mission to enact her elaborately plotted revenge on Mr. Baek. 

    Lady Vengeance tends to play around with time in a similar way to films like Pulp Fiction, and Memento.  The film frequently flashes back to Geum-ja’s time in prison, and her present life on the outside.  At first it appears to be a hard film to follow, but the eventual pay off is outstanding.  This is not a They Called Her One-Eye or Ms. 45 sort of film, there is revenge, but it’s not what you expect, or how you would expect it. This is movie that stays in your head, the type the when the credits roll the coffee is brewed and the conversations about what you saw start happening.

Audio/Video (4.5/5)

     All 3 films of the Vengeance trilogy are given very high quality 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers. They preserve Chan-wook's original theatrical aspect ratios, and are quite sharp. The black levels are solid, colors and flesh tones are natural. The only downsides to the video are some occasional edge enhancement, most notable on Mr. Vengeance, and some compression artifacts.

     Tartan has presented the Vengeance trilogy with a variety of soundtrack options.  All 3 films have Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in their native Korean. The sound on these is very good, dialogue, effects, and music are clear and audible. No background noise or distortion can be found on the tracks.  Oldboy also has 2 2.0 stereo tracks one in Korean, and the other in English.

 

Extras (5/5)

     The only set I can think of that is half this elaborate is the Alien Quadrilogy.  There are a lot of extras here, and you could probably spend days going through them all.

     All in all there are 7 commentary tracks in this boxset.  Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance features director Park Chan-wook aloneside fellor Korean director Seung-wan Ryu. This is followed up by a variety of featurettes including a making of that interviews the cast and crew.  This is followed by a series of crew interviews that detail the technical side of the production.  The disc is rounded off by a short episode of Jonathan Ross' film show on Park Chan-wook, a photo gallery, trailer, and storyboards.

   Oldboy being the most popular film in the Vengeance trilogy also gets the most substantial extras in the set. There are 3 commentary tracks on this disc. The first is with director Park Chan-wook, and the actress who played Mi-do Hye-jeong Kang .  The second is with the films cinematographer, and the art director who discuss how they created the look of the film, and the third commentary is with Richard Pena, a professor film at Columbia University.

     This is followed up with a 3.5 hour documentary called the Autobiography of Old Boy.  This documentary goes into great detail on the production, as it mostly compromised of on-set footage. This is followed up with another 2 hours of additional on set documentary footage,and cast Finally, there is about half an hours worth of deleted scenes, and the films theatrical trailer.

     Lady Vengeance like OldBoy has three commentary tracks. The first 2 feature director Park Chan-wook, the first is a more technical commentary for the film students in the audience.  This track has Park paired up with the films cinematographer. The second features Park again, this time with Lady Vengeance herself Young-ae Lee.  The third once again features Richard Pena of Columbia University.

     The second disc of the Lady Vengeance set kicks off featurettes on the making of and style of the film.  There is an interview with Park that is basically an overview of the series, but more ground is covered on the final two films.  There is also a photo gallery of on-set photos than Park took, a short piece called Get Together who shows actors from the trilogy in their Lady Vengeance cameos. The most significant extra in the Lady Vengeance set is the Fade to White Version of the film. This is Park's preferred version of the film, and basically the color is withdrawn over the course of the film until we are left with a black and white film at the end. It is a spectacular effect and complements the story perfectly. Honestly, this is the only version of the film I would consider watching going forward.

 A 30 page booklet of liner notes is included with the set.

 

Overall

     If you haven't seen the Vengeance Trilogy this is the place to start.  It's a set comparable only to the Alien Quadrilogy.  It is THAT massive. The audio/video is excellent, and offers a slight, but not significant upgrade from it's single disc counterparts. The extras are so thorough that by the end you will probably know everything there is to know about the Vengeance trilogy. Extremely Highly Recommended.