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Film / Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

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I know you're a good guy... but you know why I have to kill you...

Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002, Korean: 복수는 나의 것; Vengeance Is Mine) is a dark thriller directed by Park Chan Wook. It stars (Shin Ha-kyun) and (Song Kang-ho) as two strangers who become locked in a bitter and deadly feud. The film is the first installment of Park's Thematic Series on revenge, followed by Oldboy (2003) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

Ryu, a deaf-mute aspiring artist, has to leave art school to take care of his ill sister, who badly needs a kidney transplant. Unfortunately he is laid off from his factory job, but he refuses to tell his sister. Out of desperation, he makes a deal with black market organ traffickers to find a kidney for his sister in exchange for one of his own kidneys and 10,000,000 Korean won. The organ dealers swindle him out of his money, leaving him unable to pay for his sister's operation (which cost exactly 10,000,000 Korean won) once her surgeon finally gets a kidney. Ryu and his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Bae Doona) resort to a kidnapping scheme in order to get the money to save his sister. This benevolent crime begins a cycle of disaster and revenge that threatens to destroy everyone involved.


This film provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Even though the main characters themselves have done quite a number of bad deeds, the tragedy of the ensuing Cycle of Revenge, due to Rousseau Was Right, make them feel like this in spite of it.
    • Yeong-mi only wanted to help her boyfriend save his sister. She suffers a particularly gruesome death for her involvement.
    • Ryu. Dong-jin even admits that Ryu is probably a decent guy, but he still must die.
    • Ryu kills all of the sons of the chief black market swindler right in front of her, causing her not unsympathetic anguish in spite of her crimes.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The organ dealers themselves were the only ones who didn't have any motivation behind their actions. Needless to say, their deaths by Ryu, which came off as Laser-Guided Karma, came off as satisfying.
    • At the end, Dong-jin himself is more together. He was killed by Yeong-mi's terrorist group, just as she warned him earlier.
  • Bath Suicide: See Goodbye, Cruel World!.
  • Batter Up!: Ryu vs. organ dealers.
  • Black Market: The organ dealers whom Ryu contacts.
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  • Blood from the Mouth: Dong-jin coughs up some blood after he is repeatedly stabbed.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Ryu's death at the end.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Yeong-mi's leftist group is implied to be made up of these.
  • Book-Ends: The scene introducing Dong-jin features a fired employee named Peng who attempts to kill himself by harakiri in front of him. Near the end of the film, Dong-jin learns that Peng has died shortly before he is executed by Yeong-mi’s associates.
  • Brick Joke: Yeong-mi's terrorist organization is talked about at certain points of the movie. As it turns out, they actually do exists.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Ryu's sister requests that if she were to die, she wants to be buried at the suburban riverbed that the both of them used to frequent as children. When Ryu finds his sister dead in the bathtub, he brought her dead body to said location, but he also had to bring Yu-sun along with him to ensure that the child wouldn't be lost. All does not end well when Yu-sun drowns in the river with Ryu unable to hear her cries for help.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Yeong-mi is shown printing off a death threats for an anarchy group. This later turns out to be a calling card the (very real) group pins on victims, and one is held on Mr. Park's torso with a knife.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Ryu's batting practice later helps him knock a dealer unconscious, and then again to stave in his skull.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Dong-jin to Yeong-mi.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The torture of Yeong-mi.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The central theme of the film. Each act of revenge in the film begets more revenge.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Ryu's neightbors masturbate to his sister's moans through the walls. It turns out that they're moans of pain from her illness.
  • Death by Irony: Ryu was responsible for Yu-sun's drowning, so Dong-jin drowns him. Earlier in the film, Ryu recalls that the water was only deep enough to come up to his waist.
  • Dies Wide Open: The police found Yeong-mi dead with her eyes wide open, after she was tortured to death by Dong-jin.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Ryu get back at the organ dealers.
  • Downer Ending: Heck, downer movie.
  • Driven to Suicide: See Goodbye, Cruel World!.
  • Electric Torture: Yeong-mi dies this way.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Ryu's sister's name is never mentioned.
  • Fallen Hero: Both protagonists end up broken by loss, and then resort to awful things to get revenge.
  • Fanservice: Ryu and Yeong-mi have sex, with the viewer getting a good look.
  • Fatal Flaw: Ryu's deafness. He didn't hear Yu-sun calling for help as she drowned; if she had lived, 4/5 of the main characters would have survived the film, making it less of a Downer Ending.
  • For Want of a Nail: As explained by Yeong-mi, everything is the fault of Ryu's bosses: since they fired Ryu, he went to the mob to get an organ match for his sister without the waiting list; since they rob Ryu, this leads to the kidnapping plot and everything that goes wrong from then on. In other words, it could have all been avoided if Ryu wasn't laid off.
  • From Bad to Worse
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Dong-jin and Ryu.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The autopsy.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: The suicide note is written by Ryu's sister, hours before her brother finds her dead in a bathtub.
  • Grave Robbing: Dong-jin accidentally uncovers Ryu's sister's body.
  • Gut Punch: The death of Yu-sun is what set off the events of the movie.
  • Hand Signals: Yeong-mi uses this sign language whenever she is speaking with Ryu.
  • The Hero Dies: By the end of the film, all three of the protagonists were dead.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Both Dong-jin and Ryu are broken by their losses, and end up doing terrible things in the name of revenge. By the end of the film, they are both their own worst enemies.
  • Healthcare Motivation: The reason why Yu-sun is kidnapped by Ryu.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Justified, Ryu stabs a man in the carotid artery.
  • Hope Spot: Subverted. While being tortured, Yeong-mi says that her terrorist group, Revolutionary Anarchists Association, will come after her killers if she indeed dies. This is not enough to save her, as she is electrocuted to death. However, the terrorist group finally shows up at the end of the movie to avenge her.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Ryu's wrongdoings are more often the result of mistakes and bad luck than bad intentions.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Yu-sun didn't survive her drowning.
  • Irony
  • Kafka Comedy: Nothing goes right for anyone. For example, Ryu is laid off and has to resort to trading with criminals to buy a matching kidney, as he won't be able to pay his sister's medical bills much longer. After the criminals remove his kidney and flee with his savings, Ryu's doctor then informs him they have miraculously found a matching donor for his sister, and his savings will cover the operation.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Ryu gets a Death by Irony.
    • Before Yeong-mi dies, she warns Dong-jin that her anarcho-terrorist cabal will hunt him down if she's murdered. Nothing we've seen suggests that her group has this kind of power and he kills her anyway. In the end, her anarchist buddies show up and kill him, just as she'd warned.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Ryu begins his descent to He Who Fights Monsters by killing the organ dealers.
  • Kill 'Em All: By the end of the film, every major character is dead.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: See Death by Irony.
  • The Kindnapper: Ryu and Yeong-mi to Yu-sun.
  • Knight Templar: Dong-jin thinks that hunting down the kidnappers of his daughter is considered justice.
  • Lady Macbeth: Yeong-mi is the one to come up with the kidnapping plan, and pressures Ryu into carrying it out.
  • Looks Like She Is Enjoying It: Ryu's neighbours masturbating to what they assume to be sex but is in fact his sister suffering from her failing kidneys.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Non-romantic example. The daughter was kidnapped, and everything seems fine until she accidentally drowns while Ryu was burying his sister, unable to hear the girl's cries for help. This results in the Cycle of Revenge being set in motion.
  • Not So Different
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Ryu's kidnapping scheme.
  • On the Money: Inverted in that Ryu was swindled out of his money from the organ dealers. The cost happens to be 10,000,000 Korean won, which is exactly the same cost should an organ be available legally.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Dong-jin's entire M.O. to the kidnappers of his daughter.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Several establishing early on shots remind the audience that Ryu is deaf.
  • Revenge Before Reason: This happens twice in the movie.
    • After Ryu was finished with his vengeance on the organ dealers. He went back to Yeong-mi's apartment, only to find his girlfriend's dead body in the stretcher while in a lift. Instead of getting over it, he was consumed with grief, swearing vengeance on his girlfriend's killer.
    • Dong-jin wishes to fulfill his desire for justice on the kidnappers of his daughter. He starts out by going to Yeong-mi's apartment and giving her an Electric Torture. However, the girl warns him that if she dies, the terrorist group she's part of, knowing of his identity, will kill him. Dong-jin didn't listen, so he kills her anyway.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ryu vs. organ dealers. Dong-jin versus the kidnappers. Ryu versus Dong-jin.
  • Rousseau Was Right
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: None of the main characters get to see the end of the film. Specifically: Ryu's sister commits suicide, Yu-sun accidentally drowns, Mr. Park murders Yeong-mi and Ryu, and Yeong-mi's anarchy group kills Mr. Park.
  • Show Within a Show: The cartoon that Yu-sun was watching in Ryu's apartment.
  • Slashed Throat: Ryu's stabbing of one of the organ dealers.
  • Sliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable
  • The Sociopath: Dong-jin becomes this after his daughter's death.
  • The Speechless: Ryu. Although he only makes sniffs of sadness when he buries his dead sister, grunting noises during his fight with the organ dealers and a scream of pain when he gets his Achilles tendons slashed by Dong-jin.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Yeong-mi's death ensures Dong-jin's, thanks to her anarchist gang.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ryu stabs a man in the carotid artery. His mother tells him not to pull out the screwdriver because he'll die nearly instantly from blood loss. Guess what he does.
  • Tragedy
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The movie poster is a shot of the second-to-last scene.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Dong-jin and Ryu were asked about what they'll do to the people they are looking for. Their response: "Kill them".
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Ryu was a caring brother to his dying sister since young. But his desperation to save her turns him from a nice boy to a kidnapper and eventually, a murderer.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: In the end, the film isn't confident that viewers will remember that Cha Yeong-mi claimed to have anarchist friends who will avenge her. So when Dong-jin is confronted by a group of anarcho-toughs we haven't seen before, it replays her threats in voice-over to remind the audience rather than let them figure it out.
  • Villain Protagonist: Dong-jin.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: All of the violence in this film is hideous, with special mention going to the climactic fight, when Dong-jin cuts Ryu's Achilles tendon and we get a graphic shot of the wound gushing blood out into the water.
  • White Shirt of Death: The two of the three organ dealers who were killed by Ryu. Also, Dong-jin himself at the end.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: So many instances.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Ryu's hair is dyed green.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Dong-jin's death at the hands of Yeong-mi's anarchist gang at the end.


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