Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Korea 2002)

"Part one" of the unofficial vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (복수는 나의것)  is as every bit affecting and haunting as you may have heard. It's dark, gritty, emotionally-charged, and will leave you feeling with a new appreciation of just how good a movie can be when all the pieces fit. For those who expect more from their movies, Mr. Vengeance delivers in almost every way.

Deaf mute Ryu (Sin Ha-gyoon), is working at a smelting plant for a meager wage, yet saves every penny of his money in order to save so that his sister can have a kidney transplant. When he finally gets enough money, the only thing standing in his way is having to wait for a donor to come forward. As his sisters condition worsens, Ryu becomes increasingly desperate. To make matters worse, he gets laid off from his job because he was taking too much time off to care for his ailing sister. Ryu remembers an ad he saw in the men's restroom advertising a black market for organs and decides to call the number. He then meets with two questionable individuals that take him to an isolated and abandoned parking garage where upon he meets the woman behind this shady operation. The woman informs Ryu that she'll get him the kidney he needs in exchange for 10,000 won (which just so happens to be the amount Ryu had saved). Awakening the next day on the floor of the same building, which now shows no signs of anyone having been there, Ryu is lying naked on the floor with a horrendous scar signifying that his kidney has in fact been removed. With all of his money gone and no new kidney in which to save his sister, irony comes into play as the doctor informs him that they now have a donor.

Running out of options, Ryu seeks the help of his girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Bae Doona), and the two of them devise a plan to kidnap the daughter of Ryu's former employer Park Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho). The plan is to get enough from the ransom money to cover the cost of his sisters surgery. Yeong-mi and Ryu have no intentions of hurting the girl, but things don't go exactly as planned and the child's life is cut tragically short. The young girls death causes Dong-jin to pursue his child's kidnappers with no concern for his own safety and well-being. Once he confronts both Yeong-mi and Ryu, the two are are both apologetic and sympathetic towards Dong-jin for what's happened, but at the same time, his daughter would still be alive if she'd never been taken and Dong-jin won't just let it go.

It's almost difficult to put into words how great Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is. Without being incredibly unique in premise, it still manages to feel otherwise. The acting is simply stellar. I'm a huge fan of Song Kang-ho and I'm impressed with him as always. However, Sin Ha-gyoon is unbelievably impressive as the deaf mute Ryu and his performance is really a show stealer. The story of Mr. Vengeance is told in such a way that you don't really know who to root for, and whether or not you should rooting for either to be perfectly honest. There are no good guys or bad guys per se, but rather just human beings that ultimately make the wrong choices by letting their emotions take them down the wrong path.

I won't tell you that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is revolutionary or "the best movie ever!", but it's got all the right ingredients (acting, story, pacing, etc.) that work perfectly together because they're all executed wonderfully. The extreme content and lack of backing-down where others would makes this film a hard sell for all crowds, but if you can look past the blood and dark subject matter, you'll find a movie with a powerful story to tell that you won't soon forget. (Lee)

Grade: A+


Monday, September 1, 2008

2LDK (Japan 2002)

2LDK (meaning two living rooms, dining room, and a kitchen in Japan real estate terms), is an ambitious film that has only two stars, one setting, and a lot of clever, witty dialogue that spans a mere 70 minutes in length. All of these elements combine to create an incredibly fulfilling viewing experience that feels wholly unique and inspired.

Nozomi (former gravure idol Eiko Koike) and Rana (Maho Nanami) are two aspiring actresses living together in Tokyo, and both are up for the same part in a major motion picture called Yakzua Wives. Nozomi is a low-key individual who comes from the tiny Sado Island and has a background and appreciation for theater. Rana on the other hand is the complete opposite as high glitz and glamour, looks, and being a household name is her ultimate goal. The two girls are living in an incredibly nice high-rise apartment, all the while waiting anxiously for the phone call that could change one of their lives. As the night progresses, the two of them start make small talk in a cordial manner, but soon find themselves getting into arguments over matters such as using stuff that isn't yours, boys, acting skill and ambition, and so on. The arguments eventually take a turn for the physical as the two girls let loose in an all-out brawl that has the two using anything they can get their hands on to unleash damage.

For the story of 2LDK, that's it in a nutshell. It's an incredibly simple premise, shot in a raw indie style that only took director Yukihiko Tsutsumi eight days to shoot (day and night mind you). Definitely an impressive feat, but more than that, the film has a great look and feel to it all and the dialogue exchanged between the two girls, including what the girls are really thinking about one another, is really clever and often times amusing. As we go deeper into these characters, we begin to understand the flawed nature of them and how deceptive one's appearance really can be. The acting from both Eiko and Maho are really exceptional and the sheer fact that they can anchor an entire film is proof of that. Some of the arguments between Nozomi and Rana may seem petty, but I feel there's a deeper meaning to the film and in particular Japanese society. The Japanese, by most accounts, are a people who exist and thrive by subduing emotional urges (including anger), with the greater goal being to maintain the harmony within any given situation. Sure, I may be looking into things way too much, but get out of it what you will. There's definitely more being said here than just two girls acting catty towards one another. 2LDK feels like an experiment in showing how things, even if seemingly exaggerated, can get out of control when you do in fact let your emotions get the best of you.

Some of the over-the-top violence may offend and turn-off a lot of viewers, but the creativity shown in the concept of 2LDK is enough to warrant a viewing. The acting and writing can simply serve as icing on the cake. A definite must-see. (Lee)

Grade: A