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Directed By Park Chan Wook
Starring Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang, Yeong-ae Lee, Tony Barry

Park Chan Wook is easily one of the most compelling filmmakers in the industry today. His trilogy of Vengeance films is visually unique, stunningly dramatic, and the stories build in social and political commentary in an earthy and believable way that most current filmmakers can’t do. You might wonder what happened in the director’s life that caused him to want to deconstruct revenge as completely as he has in these three films. Watching these films you’ll see an evolution of visual style but you’ll become a part of an ongoing argument about the evolution of storytelling in the three films. Many fans stand by the first film as the best of the three while others believe Oldboy to the pinnacle of the revenge story and a smaller but vocal group believes that the three films do truly evolve to the point of the third film is the closest to perfection of the three films. The truth is, regardless of which film is your favorite you’ll come away from this series a different person having been told stories and treated to scenes that will never leave your mind again.

The Movie(s)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

The Movie

Desperate to get a kidney transplant for his dying sister a deaf mute man, Ryu, seeks to sell his own organ to the black market only to be cheated, in more ways than one.  Ryu’s girlfriend urges him to kidnap the daughter of wealthy industrialist.  The problem is that Ryu is quite an unlucky sort and quickly things go awry leading to some fairly extreme revenge scenarios.  Once the violence begins it is often nihilistic, nearly always grotesque, and disturbing.  This isn’t violence for the sake of it though.  The director of this film, as well as the other two in the series, Park Chan-Wook spends as much time making the characters real to the audience and setting the emotional arc as he does with the violence and gore.  This focus on character makes each scene of violence all the more disturbing.

The film also features a deluge of black comedy and other scenes that are strikingly beautiful.  Each of these is seamlessly and sometimes shockingly woven into the scenes of revenge and violence.  You’ll find yourself laughing at one point and feeling a little guilty for laughing once you see what the humorous scene leads up too.  These emotional twists play well into the overall feeling of “yes” these people are taking some violent revenge on each other, but somewhere deep down you’ll understand why they are doing it.  It works because we have had time to get to know and care for the characters and understand the extremes they are willing to go through for each other.

As amazing and riveting and disturbing as the film can be it does seem to lack the focus that Oldboy has.  That’s what I meant earlier by Oldboy being an evolution of Sympathy not just in theme and story but in writing and filmmaking too.  This film can feel a bit long in a few places and seems as though the story could be a bit tighter.  In the whole scheme of things though this is a minor complaint because with this flaw Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance remains a stunning achievement and one of the best films ever to take on the theme of revenge.



I actually picked up a copy of this film on an import a few years ago.  I bought it knowing almost nothing about it upon the recommendation of a friend.  I expected it to be a fun revenge film, wow was I blown away.  Oldboy is so much more than a simple revenge film.

Oh-Dae-su is out having way too many drinks on the way home to give his young daughter a birthday gift.  He finds himself locked in a small room with not much more than a television set.  He doesn’t know who his captors are or why he is there.  He stays locked in this room for fifteen years.  He stars his incarceration as a chubby sort of slovenly man but with nothing to do he passes time by exercising and making a list of everyone he has ever wronged.  He eats the same food every day, slid on a tray through a slot in a steel door, and he watches TV.  He learns that his blood and fingerprints were found at the scene of the murder of his wife.  By the end of the incarceration he is muscular and angry, much different than the man he was fifteen years earlier.

Suddenly without a word, he is released with a slick suit and a pocket full of money.  Immediately he sets out to find who has done this to him and seek his revenge.  He’s a new man, invigorated and determined to get his revenge.  He has been alone for 15 years eating the same food and only having contact with the world through TV so he attacks everything with a level of desperation.  His first meal outside of the room is shocking to people not from Korea.  There are a lot of shocks in this film dealing with extreme violence, sexuality, and overall nihilistic behavior.  Like that first meal it all makes since emotionally and thematically.  The film has a lot to say about the overall hollowness of revenge.  We’ve heard a million times before that revenge doesn’t solve anything and it won’t fill a space left by whatever event that started the cycle, but here every shock, every gritty scene drives the point home in an emotionally realistic way.  What is happening on screen may not be realistic but the emotions that enable the characters to commit these acts are real.  Have you ever said something like “I’m so mad I could kill someone” or “I’d like to beat him to death”?  Well maybe you haven’t said those things but chances are you’ve been hurt so badly that you feel them.  Well those feelings are represented here in this movie.

There’s a lot of major plot twists in this film but they aren’t {plot devices” as they would be in American films.  Oldboy changes about halfway through from being an exploitation style revenge film to being a classic tragedy and that’s what elevates it above any movie similar to it.  There’s nothing gained by anyone in this film.  Every character is a broken soul seeking revenge and later redemption only to realize that as I mentioned earlier that revenge is hollow.  This movie is quite perverse, but it’s not titillating.  Nothing about the sex scenes is pornographic or Red Shoe Diaries-ish.  Instead it’s sad as these people are so desperately trying to find themselves and not succeeding.  There are obvious scenes that will stand out in discussions throughout Oldboy but the real depth of the film is in its thematic elements and its extreme observations on revenge, love, and humanity.

I can’t end this review without discussing lead actor Choi Min-Sik.  He is fantastic in this role.  The more manic he becomes the more impossible it is to take your eyes off him.  I actually thought for a second the drunken mess at the beginning and the man that stepped out of the room 15 years later were two different actors, but no it’s the same guy.  He is easily one of the best actors working today from any country.  Also, I’ve seen a few reviews were the critic comments that this film is style over substance.  Those critics must have not been actually reading the subtitles!  In any case director Chan Wook Park did create a slick film with plenty of eye candy but every little trick serves the characters and plot.  Odd camera angles and precise editing help establish emotion for the characters and one fight sequence in particular is shot in such a way that it’s as emotionally draining for the audience as it is physically draining for the characters.

Oldboy is perverse, violent, and often darkly humorous.  This one takes everything that was established in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance to an all new level and it adds in a harrowing and disturbing twist that’s just as effective on the 10th viewing as the first.


Lady Vengeance

All three of the Vengeance films have unique visual style but the White Out version of Lady Vengeance, the way the director meant the film to be seen, is easily the most daring. In that version of the film the color slowly fades from the image until the final act is in complete black and white. Unfortunately that version of the film isn’t the one that has widely been seen by the public. Previously theatrical screenings and DVD releases featured a version of the film that remains in full color all the way through the film. Honestly after seeing the White Out version I have to admit that I prefer the color version because the colors have are vibrant and quite beautiful in the film. With that said the use of the color change as a thematic element paralleling the story is fascinating.

In this film a woman confesses to a murder she didn’t commit and is sent off to prison. After gaining her freedom she commits herself to finding the real killer and, you guessed it, seeking revenge. She doesn’t simply murder the person responsible for the killing she involves the parents of murdered children. The key scene in this film is possibly the most painful scene to watch of all three films. The build up in the story to this point is emotional enough but the use of sound, or lack thereof, and harsh cutting adds a layer of near unbearable impact to the scene and the overall story.

This film features less humor than the previous two and replaces it with more surreal moments. The film overall has a smoother more musical progression than the previous two films as well. It’s almost as if the protagonist dances her way through the story. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of anger and aggression in the film because there is. It is a revenge film after all. Said aggression strikes a much different chord here than in the previous installments due to the smoother pacing of the film. Lady Vengeance is the perfect closing story to this trilogy bookending with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. If you haven’t watched this film then you don’t know the whole story.


The Video

The 1080p presentation of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance features fantastic colors with realistic skin tones and deep black levels. This is the oldest of the trilogy so as you might expect it does feature a bit of film grain but through the grain the contrast is still striking and detail remains high. This is the best the film has ever looked.


At first glance Oldboy may appear to be a step back in quality from its predecessor and it is but it’s by design. The director set out to make this film appear as gritty as the story truly is. This is an extremely dark and angry film and the overall look of the film is the same. With that said there are some real issues with this 1080p presentation. After the midway point of the film artifacts become apparent and there’s also some annoying noise spiking. Black levels and color representation is solid and detail is consistent throughout the film though. While not as impressive as the previous film this presentation is still a step ahead of the DVD version.


Lady Vengeance is easily the best looking of the three films on blu-ray with its 1080p presentation but that makes sense considering it’s the newest of the three films. The level of detail in this film is amazing and it’s consistent throughout the running time. Again colors here are realistic and black levels are deep and inky without softening detail. There are minor problems with the contrast running a little hot and compression is a little heavy here and there too. There are even some instances of edge enhancement and artifacting but what’s good here is really great almost balancing out the minor issues.


The Audio

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a subtle quiet film for most of its running time so looking for jaw dropping audio here is a mistake. With that said the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation here offers some nice ambient surround sounds, good panning across the soundstage, and even some sub woofer use. Dialogue is always clean and easy to hear throughout the film too.


What happened to the Lossless DTS 7.1 audio presentation? It’s promised but not available on the Oldboy disc! There are several other options but the only good one is the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix. Dialogue, score, and sound FX are mixed clean and are distortion free even in louder scenes. There’s some good usage of the sub woofer and some aggressive rear speaker punch but overall the mix just isn’t as consistently immersive at it should be.


Lady Vengeance gets the DTS HD Master 5.1 track and it sounds great, very similar in presentation to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance actually. The presentation is definitely a bit front heavy in the soundstage but there’s also nice subtle surround usage and great dynamic range throughout the film. The engrossing score to this film punches through brilliantly and the dialogue and sound FX are well mixed and easy to hear too. This isn’t a predictable sound mix though. Just when you think the sound is about to explode through the speakers it grows quiet, muted even. Some of this may be a side effect of the transfer but it also appears to be by design. Overall this is a solid audio presentation of a magnificent film.


The Packaging and Bonus Features sympathy

This four blu-ray set is currently available exclusively through Best Buy in a tin. The tin is well made and happily the lid is hinged rather than just removable. Inside the tin are three standard blu-ray cases, one for each film. There are tons of bonus features available in this set with the best being a three and a half hour documentary covering the making of Oldboy.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance gets the fewest features but what’s here is all solid stuff:

Writer/director Park Chan Wook and actor/filmmaker offer up a thought provoking and chatty commentary that digs into almost every part of the filmmaking process from the inception of the idea to the script and the production. The track can be a little challenging to keep up with as it is subtitled.

Three featurettes running around an hour and a half total do a fantastic job of covering the making of the film with behind the scenes footage, plenty of cast interviews, and even some interviews with members of the crew discussing the project. There’s no filler here, everything is informative.

Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-Wook is a featurette with English film critic Jonathan Ross examining Park Chan-Wook’s three revenge films. It’s brief but interesting.

Finally there is a trailer, a group of animated storyboards, and a photo gallery set to music from the film.



This blu-ray release of Oldboy features both the bonus features from the original three disc DVD edition as well as those from the previous blu-ray release. The three and a half hour documentary on the making of Oldboy is the biggest draw from the entire selection of bonus features provided for this film. This expansive documentary film was previously available on the three disc DVD edition. This film can be challenging to watch as there’s no narration. It instead opts for a voyeuristic sort of approach to covering Oldboy. The documentary manages to hit nearly every aspect of the making of the film.

There are count ‘em three feature length commentaries for this film! The first is with director Park Chan-Wook discussing the film solo, the second is the director and three of the lead actors focusing on character, and a third with the director and his cinematographer chatting about the look and feel of the film. Between these three commentaries and the feature length documentary there’s very little left to talk about in regards to Oldboy and that’s a good thing. These commentaries range from fun character discussion to truly technical filmmaking techniques. Few films have ever had this much in depth examination.

Sure there’s a three hour movie covering the making of Oldboy but there’s still room for a group of featurettes running over seventy minutes that break down to investigating the special fx, the music, and the cast remembrances. Some things in this group of featurettes are redundant but there’s still even more information here for the hardcore fan, plus these featurettes are a bit more focused than the longer documentary.

There’s nearly an additional hour of cast interviews and Q&A sessions to dig through that offer more perspective from the actors. There’s a set of deleted scenes with optional director commentary, a brief look at the Cannes premiere, and the original trailer.

Wow, this is in depth coverage of a film that truly deserves it.


Lady Vengeance

The 2 disc version of Lady Vengeance offers up a bevy of bonus features along with the original cut of the film.

The Fade to White version of the film is essentially the same as previous versions of the film except that the color palate slowly adjusts throughout the film as does the saturation levels making the film looking radically different by the end. This version features an introduction by the director sharing his thoughts on this version, the one that he intended for the world to see, of the film.

There are three feature length audio commentaries here too. The first track is with the director and lead actress, the second is with the director, the cinematographer, and art director, and the third is an English language track with film critic Richard Pena discussing the entire trilogy. Like on Oldboy these three tracks manage to cover almost every element of the making of this film.

The Style of Lady Vengeance is a multipart documentary dissecting the overall look and style of the film from costumes to the computer graphics. This nearly forty minute long documentary is more typical “making of” fodder but the information is all really good. Again there’s a half hour of “Character Interviews” with cast members sharing their insights, there’s an eight minute featurette with cast members chatting about the awards the film won on the festival circuit (a little filler-ish), a featurette revealing all of the cameos of actors from the previous revenge films that appear in Lady Vengeance, and a group of marketing materials including a trailer and TV spots.

Oh did you think it was over? Nope there’s a seventy plus minute long interview with Park Chan-Wook that also features a look at the director’s on set photography and a short film recommended by the director.


The Vengeance Trilogy takes a deep and layered look at a singular emotion but it digs into three different aspects of that emotion. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance focuses on revenge due to passion, not passion from romantic love as much as from family love. Oldboy is all about rage, from both the villain and the victim. That rage erupts in some subtle ways in the film but the more overt scenes, most notably a fight scene with a hammer, are jaw dropping. Lady Vengeance does return to family pain but the protagonist isn’t part of that family. She just helps the family reach closure via revenge and that closure closes this painful, mesmerizing, and groundbreaking trilogy of films.

These films not only deserve fantastic presentations but they require extensive dissection so that future filmmakers can learn from them. Film fanatics, or “CineGeeks” should also get the opportunity to learn how these films came to be and with this box set no stone is left unturned. Anyone who owns a blu-ray player and claims to be a fan of film should own this box set. This trilogy is a major achievement that will likely never be matched.

Overall (Not an Average) 9/10

The Review
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
The Movie 9/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
The Movie 10/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 9.5/10
Lady Vengeance
The Movie 9/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 9/10

Complete Box Set Overall (Not an average) 9.5/10