Finally, I have completed the vengeance trilogy, Park Chan Wook’s set of 3 films that bring color and violence to the idea of morality. Previously, I recall watching JSA, which I found really good. For whatever reason, I never got around to watching Old Boy or any other celebrated Park film since. I’ve corrected that error now though.

I think Old Boy is probably the most powerful of the three films and probably my favorite. I can see why there’s so much hype, why there’s so much fuss about it. The story is a pretty well conceived one, with a killer sucker punch at the end. The Grand Prix at Cannes 2004 looks very well deserved. Choi Min Sik was rather superb. His hair is so rad.

The awesome, side scrolling fight scene that looks like you dug up your SNES.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, I found achingly slow and torturous. It was alright I suppose but really suffered from abject pacing or perhaps my own impatience. Plus, I also felt some things a touch contrived, like the nonsensical political drivel or the fact that one of the leads is a deaf/mute to amplify the viewer’s sympathy. It lurched for way way way too long, taking forever to emote the pain of the actors until I felt bored at times. There was scantly anything at all to lift the drudgery and even the ending felt marginally below my slowness threshold.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance ends the trilogy quite brilliantly though. The plot moves somewhat slowly but interestingly. Bit by bit, you get to piece together what’s happened, what’s happening and what’s going to happen. Which gives you space to think and consider each piece of the puzzle. It starts out pretty whimsical and surreal then proceedingly gets a whole lot more intense. There’s a whole lot less violence in this one. Its all pretty much capped into the ending where everything finally unravels itself and you get a soppy ending scene to wrap it all up again. Lee Young Ae, who plays the lead, did a stellar job convincing me that she was simply a sweet, innocent girl forced to become a vengeful killer against her will.

I don’t see why anyone would see these films as being mindless gore flicks when they’re clearly not. I thought every single film looked at the idea of revenge and asked if its ever right. Whether an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind or if its ok to exact revenge to quell any wrongdoings done to us. The premise of the films necessitates that there is violence. Its not there just so we get to wince at teeth being pulled or people getting electrocuted to death. Its there to make us wonder if any of it is right or wrong. In Lady Vengeance, one of the guys in the final scene wonders out loud “This isn’t going to bring our kid back is it?”. Yet he still proceeds to enact what he deems to be justice by hacking an immobilized man.

Mr. Vengeance pitted one seemingly unfortunate individual against another. It wonders if passing guilt from one party onto the next is worthwhile or simply going to cause more problems. Old Boy has a similar vein, asking if violence is necessarily the answer or the undoing itself. Lady Vengeance starts with one person seeking revenge, only to add more to the same cause and deciding ultimately on themselves to deliver what they believe to be just. All three look at revenge as a somewhat hollow device that ultimately fails to replace whatever was lost.

In all three films, there’s a good amount of style and I never really had to cringe at anything. That is, I didn’t find the violence too extreme or senseless. It all seemed rather calculated and precise. There is a good amount of sap but I thought it was to be expected. There’s always these putrid scenes of innocent days gone by, when something silly happens between kids and a pile of shit follows once we come back to the present. But that’s ok. Koreans can get pretty dramatic. See Winter Sonata for explanations.

The films play slightly differently from other revenge flicks though. Its not about people trying to do the right thing but people trying to find a sense of release, a conclusion. You sort of cheer the leads as they delve from one violent act to another, stabbing, shooting and bludgeoning their way to resolution. Yet, you feel uncomfortable when the characters’ moralities are questioned and feel guilty for cheering before.

If there’s one thing I learned, I’m gonna keep my mouth shut if I ever see anything I shouldn’t see from now on. Cos I don’t want the mental trauma Choi Min-Sik went through.