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Vengeance Trilogy Boxset [Blu-ray]
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This collectable set includes three of director Chan-Wook Park s most celebrated films; his vengeance trilogy. Although the films do not follow on from one another, they have the same central theme at their centres; retribution and its effects on both the victim and the aggressor.
This collection of three ultra-violent films includes SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, OLDBOY and LADY VENGEANCE
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) Deaf mute Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun) has saved all his hard-earned money for his sister who requires a kidney transplant. He has the wrong blood type to be able to donate one of his kidneys, so he arranges a trade with a group of black-market organ dealers: one of his kidneys and 10 million won in return for their finding a kidney for his sister. Just as the criminals renege on the deal, a legitimate kidney becomes available for transplant. Unfortunately, Ryu no longer has the 10 million won required for the hospital to perform the operation. In retaliation, he and his political activist girlfriend kidnap his former boss's daughter - but events quickly spiral quickly out of control...
Old Boy (2003) Is another vibrant and twisted revenge thriller. Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) has never taken his role as husband and father seriously and has just been released from police custody for drunk and disorderly behaviour on his own baby daughter's birthday. When he finds himself in solitary confinement in a prison cell after being mysteriously abducted on the street, he has no idea what is going on or why. A year into his imprisonment, he learns from the small television in his cell that his wife is dead, and that he himself is suspected of the crime. When, fifteen years later, he is released as suddenly and inexplicably as he was detained, he is determined to track down his tormentors and wreak his revenge. But little does he know that his kidnappers have even worse horrors in store for him...
Lady Vengeance (2005) Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) is a young woman who works for underworld crime boss Mr Baek (Min-sik Choi). Taking the fall for the abduction and murder of a child, Geum-ja is sent to prison at the age of 19. When she realises that she has been framed by Mr Baek himself, she spends 13 years in prison planning her revenge. On her release, she exacts her vengeance against Mr Baek's goons, before a final confrontation with the mentor who betrayed her.
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Just as a general gist, these films are not narratively connected at all, though all tell profound stories in their own right. Mr. Vengeance being the most gruesome one, Oldboy being much more bitter, whilst Lady Vengeance being surprisingly elegant and detailed,(despite scenes of murder/torture).
As a note, this version of Lady Vengeance is the Fade to Black and White version, of which does what it says; as the movie progresses, colours will eventually became shaded white/black until only subtle primary colours remain. Albeit I was rather disappointed when I found out the colour version was not included, but after now watching it the second time, I personally feel this is the version Park Chan-wook intended, and in my opinion is superior to the former.
Nonetheless, as a fan of contemporary Korean movies, I am truly happy with my purchase, especially with the current price which I had purchased it for, it is an absolute bargain!
Should you worry when a society becomes obsessed with vengeance as a form of entertainment? In the transition from Elizabethan to Jacobean England the revenge tragedy became a popular play theme. Relying on desperation for the main character to get their own back big style with many sub plots as everyone else tried to put the boot in, as the last words were spoken any actor still standing would have been tripping over an impressive heap of corpses and trying not to slip on all the fake blood. Ranging from Shakespeare's Hamlet to Middleton's "Revenge Tragedy" (see Alex Cox's Scouse reworking of the play) the revenge theme has now been reborn Korean style in director and writer Chan Wook Park's loose trilogy.
This set includes the three superbly directed movies on single disks with each film's accompanying special features so you've got 6 in all. Now the price has thankfully dropped, it may make more sense to buy them as a set (it won't save you any shelf space though over the individual editions).
I found the director's commentary for the first in the series "Sympathy for Mr Vengeance" particularly useful as Park deliberately misses out scenes to keep the audience awake. Key plot points could be missed in this transfer as anything written in Korean (the redundancy form, the sister's suicide note, the revolutionaries' pamphlet in the final scene) are not translated in the subtitles. The first disk also includes a Jonathan Ross documentary on JSA, Mr Vengeance, and Oldboy. There's also small pieces on the special effects and anecdotes from the cast and crew.
Park produces magnificent interior stagings, relying on a wide angle lens to exploit the maximum depth of field (I do like scenes that STAY in focus) and the lushness of his exterior nature shots. What I adore most about his directing style and writing is the matter of factness of the violence. He is not judgmental and so it is all the more shocking when it happens. The nearest equivalent being the Coen brothers' works such as Fargo or Miller's Crossing. It's also pleasing that people with disabilities such as the deaf kidnapper, Ryu (Mr Vengeance), are slipped into the plot effortlessly without the usual Hollywood fanfare of "look he's special."
Because the lead characters of Mr Vengeance and Oldboy embark on their vengeance spree without particular planning, they themselves become unstuck when their planned victims fight back. One way or another they have lost something by the end of the film. In Lady Vengeance, my favourite of the three, Geum-ja Lee finds that the person who blackmailed her into going to jail for him is actually a serial killer. As she acts as the conduit for the vengeance of all the parents whose children he murdered, she uniquely does find true salvation.
Just to clarify when you hear that character's name in these movies is "Park" it's not due to a director's whim- it's one of the most common family names in Korea (about 4 million people). This had me really confused when I saw my first Korean film.
I'm absolutely enamoured with these films, they are visually astounding and all 3 stories are full with very considered characters making for a very rewarding viewing. Fans of the work of Beat Takeshi's directing style may find similarities in the director's visual methods particularly in the use of close ups. Korea has perhaps been less consistent with its production of exciting new films but these hopefully mark the rise of its quality along with the sublime Tale of Two Sisters.
First up is Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, a truly heartbreaking and uncompromising film. What stands out for me in this film is the use of two antiheroes and no real villains. Each character in the story is flawed and each makes decisions which ultimately turn out to be misguided and end in tragedy. What is often so apparent in new wave Asian cinema is the uncompromising brutality which is not watered down, it means that many scenes make for uncomfortably viewing but they have a definite necessity. Extreme scenes in these films are always visceral and confronting, but never unnecessary and gratuitious like some other films in the ever expanding new genre. In conclusion a heartbreaking film that massively marked the director's potential.
Next up arguably the best of the three films and in my opinion a modern classic, Oldboy. Like Sympathy out hero is more an antihero, a flawed character whose decisions are not always well judged. Firstly I have to say that the premise for this film had me so excited before I saw it, I had massively high expectations and was not dissapointed. Imagine being abducted and imprisoned for 15 years and then set free without any explanation. The film is full of twists that you couldn't possibly see coming and yet as extreme as the revelations are there is something so believable about the story and its tragic characters. It is also perhaps the only film I have ever seen where a man can take on about 30 other people in a violent fight and actually make it look 100% convincing and believable. The film also succeeds in making the viewer accepting of a situation which we could just never conceive of being comfortable with in reality, not to give too much away, it is very confronting and leaves us questioning moral absolutes we are so ready to assume. There is also a rather infamous scene of the consumption of a live squid (all real no cgi involved) that will leave you squirming. Absolutely fantastic.
The last film Lady Vengeance I have only watched once and thoroughly enjoyed but cannot remember as much about it which probably isn't the greatest sign. I think before I saw it I was resigned to the fact it couldn't possibly be all that good, the last of a trilogy is generally the weakest, but I was surprised. Again a very visually stunning film full of iconic images, and a story line which focusses on the deeply unpleasant abuse and murder of children. A lot of the extreme violence was more suggested rather than gratuitously featured but utilises the skill of making audiences think they have seen more than was actually shown (ie made famous by the Psycho shower scene) a feat that not all directors can achieve. A good finale to an interesting set of films and I implore any fan of new wave Asian cinema to watch these films!
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