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It's easy to see why Park Chan-Wook has become such a favorite over the years, particularly with his Vengenace trilogy dating back to the 2002 release of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. I had only been familiar with the 2003 release of Oldboy, the second of all three Vengeance titles with each film telling a different tale, and so it's only a matter of time before I set out to catch Lady Vengeance in the process.
For now, I speak of the first film which centers on Shin Ha-Kyun as Ryu, a jobless deaf mute who, after a failed attempt to sell his kidney to the black market to acquire the funds for his ailing sister's own kidney operation, hatches a plan with his girlfriend, Cha, to get the money he needs. However, secrets be damned, the truth unfolds in a plot that deals in kidnapping, murder, mystery, and inner-turmoil for Dong-jin, a grief-stricken father who will stop at nothing to get his revenge.
If you're not yet keen on this film then forgive me for being as vague as I am here. The film has been out for a good fourteen years and I've only just hopped on it myself, and being a precursor to Oldboy, I couldn't ignore this for very long despite usually writing about action movies. The film itself plays out more as an arthouse crime thriller with interwoven drama and slow-paced sequencing. The characters are fantastically portrayed and timed beautifully in their evolution as the plot thickens.
The Thieves co-star, actor Shin Ha-Kyun propels the grim story in the role of Ryu with Cloud Atlas co-star, actress Bae Doo-na in the role of Cha whose membership in a radical anarchist group may or may not be just a one-person gig. Award-winning TV actress Im Ji-eun plays Ryu's sister whose growing friendship with young actress Han Bo-Bae proves quite pivotal in the film's ultimate twist as you grow to love them both. Song Kang-ho, a Korean cinema favorite known recently for his role in the 2013 festival favorite, Snowpiercer, commands the remaining half of the film as Dong-jin whose deseperate search for vengeance is illustrated masterfully as a touching and gripping downward spiral that affects all of our main characters one way or another.
Park's vision here is wonderfully crafted for a tale with a look that isn't too boring even though a film walks a little bit on the edge of it with its pacing; what saves the film largely is its delivery through the performances, the cinematography, the script, the ways in which dialogue is delivered, the scenery, the set pieces and some of the most delightful surprises that occur in a tale as grim as this.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is a violent film, but it doesn't exploit gore at all, it accentuates it. The plot is rewardingly crafted in several ways that doesn't try a lot of your patience, immersing you in a crime story that will compel you and not distract you, and often tickles one's own resonance and understanding of cimema, or Korean cinema for that matter.
It's not for everyone, but it pays to have an open mind, and if you have overlooked this film for any reason in the past decade, stop.
Whether you go into director George Nolfi's new movie, Birth Of The Dragon, for its martial arts action or any historical substance you can scrape, if past reviews and reactions have anything to say for it, its unlikely the film will be as fulfilling in its delivery. The film was assailed by critics after debuting in Toronto late last year and even moreso when the film's trailer arrived introducing what some feel is a tone-deaf transposition to film based on the legendary contest between two iconic athletes, one of whom would soon ascend to greatness in the years ahead.
That moment was the very fight between fledgeling action film hero Bruce Lee and Shaolin martial artist Wong Jack Man, etched in history as a fight between two distinct ideologies for which the outcome remains a recorded mystery to date. Front and center is American-born Hong Kong actor and martial artist Phillip Ng (Once Upon A Time In Shanghai) making his Hollywood debut opposite actor Yu Xia (Mojin: The Los…
I think it's safe to say you know your movie sucks when you not only screw the rights holders whose name and content you base your unsanctioned film on, but when said rights holders join the chorus of critics panning your movie from literally every angle of the internet. That is the level of achievement you have reached if your name is George Nolfi and you've directed a film called Birth Of The Dragon, long hyped to be a hopefully legendary homage to Bruce Lee, the late founder of Jeet Kune Do and patriarch of American martial arts movie fandom.
You've seen him play the Game Of Death opposite Bruce Lee in the late martial arts star's final film. You've watched him go down in the iconic bar room brawl as "Sticks" in Out For Justice. You might have even caught him in a heartfelt and defining moment in the finale scene of David Mamet's 2008 martial arts drama, Redbelt.
Or, if you're immersed in the martial arts niche enough then you've likely given a glance at martial arts legend, Dan Inosanto, in various viral self-defense videos online or in segments from the many documentaries he's been featured in within the last few decades, namely Jay Ignacio's The Bladed Hand: The Global Impact of the Filipino Martial Arts or Pete McCormack's I Am Bruce Lee. For certain, the actor and ardent teacher and FMA mainstay's relevance is guaranteed this week with the news of a new biopic based on the Guro's little-known life and history which includes helping the Dallas Cowboys win Super Bow…