South Korean director Park Chan-Wook may have first attracted attention with J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (2000), a thriller set on border of North and South Korea in all senses of the term, but it was with Oldboy that he really rocked the international film scene. It’s the centerpiece of his Vengeance Trilogy (Palisades Tartan) and all three films (all previously available on DVD) are now collected in a lavish eight-disc set that has more supplements than even the South Korean special edition (or so they say; I didn’t compare them myself).
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), the debut film of the trilogy, is laced with deadpan humor around the edges, but there is nothing ironic in the title. Except for the fact that there are two vengeance-fueled protagonists—the desperate deaf-mute (Shin Ha-kyun) who resorts to kidnapping only after he’s robbed by black market organ pirates and the corporate CEO (Park Dong-jin) whose kidnapped daughter dies in his care—whose blood-soaked odysseys finally converge. Park is neither glib nor pedantic as he charts the vicious circle that leaves victims in their wake, both unintentional and premeditated, and takes its dehumanizing toll on his increasingly brutal heroes. Park’s deliberate direction is full of serene scenes and lovely images for a film so full of violence and death, and his sympathy for both men is sincere. Which may be the only real irony of the film. The disc features commentary by director by Park Chan-Wook and actor Ryoo Seung-wan and there’s a bonus disc filled with interviews and featurettes, most of them in Korean, plus an English language profile/celebration of Park Chan-wook made for British TV by Jonathan Ross (a man who loves his cult cinema and visceral filmmaking).