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'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' - The sister of a simple and deaf factory worker, Ryu, falls ill and needs a kidney transplant, however he is not a match so he looks to the black market which he can’t afford. After being fired from his job, his rebel girlfriend suggests that he kidnap the child of his former boss, Park. When the girl accidentally dies, her father seeks vengeance for her death.
'Oldboy' - Park Chan-Wook’s classic genre-defining revenge tale of a man who’s wrongly been imprisoned for 15 years and is then suddenly released. Given money and a cell phone, he’s challenged to discover who incarcerated him in the first place, but he only has five days to uncover the truth. Even with a mysterious young girl to help him, his tortures have just begun. Cannes-winner championed by Tarantino, OLDBOY regularly appeared in top ten best movie polls across the country and is listed as one of the all-time best films as rated by IMDB users.
'Lady Vengeance' - After being wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young child, a beautiful young woman (Lee Young-ae) is imprisoned for 13 years. While in prison she gains the respect and loyalty of her fellow cellmates, all the while plotting her vendetta on the man responsible (OLDBOY’s Choi Min-Sik). Upon her release she sets in motion an elaborate plan of retribution, but what she discovers is a truth so horrifying, even revenge doesn’t seem punishment enough.
For more about Vengeance Trilogy and the Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray release, see Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Shin Ha-kyun, Lee Yeong-ae, Bae Doona, Gang Hye-jeong, Song Kang-ho
Director: Park Chan-wook
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray Review
Park Chan-wook's gut-punch trilogy barrels onto Blu-ray...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 1, 2010
There's a scene buried deep within the dark reaches of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's Lady Vengeance -- the third entry in a trio of thematically linked Park films affectionately referred to as his Vengeance Trilogy -- in which the director's dissection of one of mankind's most primal urges comes to fruition. It's almost unbearable to watch unfold. A group of parents, still grieving the loss of their children, writhe in unspeakable torment; their faces racked with emotions no one should have to endure, their mouths relinquishing unimaginable screams, their hands rustling their hair and pounding their chests. It's a truly unnerving scene, one made all the more so by Park's use of jarring cuts and unsettling silence. But it also encapsulates everything that makes the acclaimed director's three-film meditation on vengeance such a potent, multi-part masterpiece. Violence is merely a means to a more fascinating end, ambiguous allegory is employed at every turn, and exquisite imagery makes it impossible to look away. More than anything though, Park proves he has something to say about the human condition. Whether examining the futility of revenge in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, studying the seeds of wrath in Oldboy, or considering redemption in Lady Vengeance, cinephiles owe it to themselves to sample these incredibly provocative films.
It's fitting that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the first and most accessible entry in the Vengeance Trilogy. In it, a deaf factory worker named Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) and his political extremist girlfriend Yeong-mi (Doona Bae) kidnap the daughter (Bo-bae Han) of a corporate manager named Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song). Their goal? To secure enough ransom money to purchase a kidney off the black market in an effort to save Ryu's dying sister (Ji-eun Lim). However, while they have no intention of hurting the young girl, their plan inevitably unravels, pitting the amateur criminals against a desperate father who will stop at nothing to exact justice on his daughter's captors. Oldboy couldn't be more different. A visceral, pulpy, unrelenting heart-stopper from beginning to end, it tells the twisted tale of Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a businessman who sets out to uncover the identity and motives of the madman who kept him in an inescapable prison for fifteen years. Over the course of his search, he falls for a beautiful sushi chef (Hye-jeong Kang), mines his past for clues, closes in on his enemies, and loses his mind and soul in the process. Park changes direction yet again with Lady Vengeance, a passionate, lyrical reflection on revenge that manages to transcend everything that's come before it. Imprisoned after confessing to a murder she didn't actually commit, Geum-ja (Young-ae Lee) serves a lengthy sentence, earns her release, and commits herself to a new cause: finding and punishing the real killer. But the manner in which she satisfies her bloodlust is the most shocking development, and will surely resonate with anyone who braves the execution of her judgment.
Though tied together with the loosest of threads, Park's Vengeance Trilogy films build upon one another, all while emerging as seductive beasts in their own right. Similarities abound -- matters of physical and emotional isolation, self-preservation and self-deception, mental instability, disorientation and displacement, and unjust imprisonment permeate Sympathy, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance -- but Park rarely repeats himself, using a number of familiar elements to delve farther and farther into his underlying themes. His interests lie in the cause and effect of vengeance, not in the sins of its disciples or the manner of its implementation; in its ability to skew the truth and blot out all hope of redemption; in the power it holds over those who succumb to its silky siren-song. At the same time, he avoids labeling vengeance as good or evil, presenting it instead as an irrevocable, arguably compulsory extension of wrath and justice that isn't bound to any particular moral affiliation. In Sympathy, forgiveness has no sway, love evolves into hate, and intentions offer little solace. Even when Dong-jin is conflicted by the choices ultimately set before him, his need for closure demands he set aside his good will to take action. In Oldboy, every offense, no matter how vile, traces back to a deep, gangrenous wound that spreads its infection to anyone who comes near. Oh Dae-su may embark on a quest for revenge, but he soon finds himself gazing into a dark mirror that reveals sins he'd just as soon forget. In Lady Vengeance, retribution heals old scars despite causing immense, oft-times horrific pain. Likewise, Geum-ja is transformed into an avenging angel, yet relinquishes her fiery sword to others with equal claim to its blade.
Yes, Park's gruesome imagery can be difficult to stomach. Yes, the more surreal aspects of his stories will leave casual filmfans scratching their heads. And yes, his refusal to tie up loose ends and provide answers will frustrate some and enthrall others. But that shouldn't turn anyone away. If nothing else, the Vengeance Trilogy is a captivating, thought-provoking cinematic experience unlike any other. The casts' performances are agile and raw, Chung-hoon Chung's stunning photography is simply magnificent, the films' musical scores are deftly tuned to the three brutal tasks at hand, Park and his co-writers' screenplays are sharp and serrated, and his three-part study of vengeance is surprisingly thorough and wholly unpredictable (to put it lightly). Sympathy is the most personal entry, and draws its strengths from within the bellies of its actors. It works inward and searches the very depths of its protagonists, allowing their distraught faces to weave an unforgettable tale of woe. Oldboy follows suit, but layers nightmarish visuals, convincing brutality, and daunting subtext on top of Choi and Ji-tae Yu's commanding work. Though it continually abuses its audience, it does so with intelligence and purpose, delivering the trilogy's most frightening, disconcerting film. Lady Vengeance is just as compelling, but approaches its every mystery and thematic hurdle with welcome restraint. Geum-ja's plight is invigorating, oddly uplifting and, despite its beautifully spirited flourishes, devastatingly honest.
I'll admit there are moments -- negligible as they may be -- where Park seems hellbent on pushing boundaries, sometimes at the expense of his narratives. I'll even be the first to say some of the films' special effects lack the sort of polish European and American viewers are accustomed to. However, Park's steady hand and watchful eye prevent the films from ever feeling indulgent, and it will be a long time before Sympathy, Oldboy or Lady Vengeance begin to show their ages. Every time I plow through the Vengeance Trilogy, I discover something new. Every time I pour over each story, I walk away with a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding of Park's characters and themes. Moreover, every time I step back from the films, I realize how interconnected they actually are. I couldn't ask for much more. While I can't guarantee everyone will be as enamored as I obviously am, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance come with my highest recommendation.
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may be the oldest of director Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy films, but its striking 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is quite impressive. More faithful and filmic than I expected, the image boasts bold colors and natural skintones, commanding contrast, satisfying black levels, and a pleasing, unobtrusive veneer of grain. Detail is sharp and refined as well, celebrating every spatter of blood, bead of sweat, and riverbank stone that frames Park's disquieting tale of revenge. Note the clutter in Ryu and Yeong-mi's apartment, the hair that falls across Dong-jin's weary face, the bags the poor man leaves laying by the water's edge as the credits roll. Through it all, textures remain crisp and consistent, delineation is revealing, and overall clarity is exceptional, leaving little by the wayside and even less to the imagination. Depth and dimensionality are convincing as well, lending the picture a sophistication that both honors Park's intentions and delivers a stunning high definition presentation. In fact, were it not for the presence of some rather noticeable edge enhancement and a few brief bursts of source noise, this might very well be a top tier transfer. I didn't detect any artifacting, crush, aliasing, or unsightly DNR, and the image is clean and attractive throughout. Suffice to say, those who've patiently waited for Park's Vengeance Trilogy to arrive will be ecstatic to see it hit the ground running.
There will be those who write off Oldboy's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from the outset. It's grainier, grittier, murkier, and altogether uglier than anything Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has to offer. But it's important to separate Park's intentions from Tartan's efforts to effectively evaluate the film's high definition presentation. Simply put, Oldboy is a grainier, grittier, murkier, uglier film by design. Chung Chung-hoon's raw, visceral photography not only sets an appropriate tone, it perfectly embodies and nearly literalizes Oh Dae-su's descent into madness. To that end, Tartan's Blu-ray transfer makes several substantial strides past its DVD counterparts. Its palette is more accurate, colors are more vibrant, blacks are deeper, contrast is more dependable, and detail is far more rewarding. Unfortunately, several technical issues make Park's stomach-churning visuals even more difficult to digest. Errant artifacting occasionally swarms the proceedings (the most obvious instances occur in the scenes surrounding the 1:19:00 mark), ringing affects key shots, crush is a persistent (albeit arguably inherent) problem, and spiking source noise becomes downright unruly at times (particularly during the film's sobering third act). But while it can be difficult to discern where Park and Chung's intentions end and Tartan's flawed transfer begins, educated eyes should be able to draw a reasonable line between the two. Ultimately, such shortcomings shouldn't dissuade anyone from buying Oldboy or the Vengeance Trilogy, but they nevertheless prevent the film from leaving the same lasting mark as its predecessor.
Thankfully, both the theatrical cut and the "Fade to White" version of Lady Vengeance look fantastic. Like the Blu-ray edition of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady's separate 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers will leave Park purists grinning, even if Geum-ja's pursuit of redemption sets her on an unsettling path. First and foremost, the film's finest details are intact, granting closeups lifelike textures, backgrounds remarkable clarity, and edges razor-sharp definition. Geum-ja's soft eyes are more arresting than ever, her tender expressions are more haunting, and her every pore seems primed to endure the most ardent videophile's scrutiny. Better still, supple reds, breathtaking blues, and savory amber hues bolster Chung's snow-swept cinematography at every turn; blacks are well-resolved and shadows are nicely delineated; and the image remains bright and beautiful throughout, regardless of whether light or darkness dominates the proceedings. Yes, contrast is a tad hot and crush takes its toll here and there, but both issues trace back to Park's intentions, not Tartan's technical transfer. That's not to say everything is perfect. Edge enhancement (minor as it may be) once again rears its head, a few small swarms of artifacts appear, and some slight but unwieldy source noise makes its presence known (skip to the 42-minute mark for the most damning example). None of it spoils the presentation, mind you, but it does knock Lady Vengeance down a notch. Still, Park's Trilogy capper is, far more often than not, a marvelous one, and should please anyone who braves its waters.
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a quieter film than many might expect -- particularly those whose familiarity with Park's work doesn't extend beyond Oldboy -- but Tartan's rousing Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track features an able-bodied mix with plenty of muscle to back up its threats. Both LFE output and rear speaker activity are artfully presented and innately resourceful, infusing each scene with a palpable, ever-mounting sense of sonic dread. Directionality is subtle yet precise, pans blow through the soundfield like a gust of wind, and dynamics, when let loose, provide unnerving access to the characters' psyches. Better still, the soundfield is believable and immersive, relying on snap-shot acoustics and world-weary ambience to draw listeners through Sympathy's dualistic doors. Granted, dialogue prioritization isn't always as neat and tidy as it should be (or rather as neat and tidy as audiophiles may wish), but the vast majority of the film's hushed utterances, casual conversations, and disheartening cries are crisp, clean, and intelligible, regardless of how tense Dong-jin and Ryu's plights become. Still, considering the film is subtitled, it's hardly an issue and shouldn't bother anyone but the most diehard members of its fold. If I have any complaint it's that the film's original sign language subtitles are burned in, meaning they sometimes tussle with the optional English subtitles on-screen. While it doesn't amount to a serious problem, it will annoy some. Even so, the first entry in Park's Vengeance Trilogy sounds great, handily outclasses its DVD counterparts, and complements Tartan's video transfer nicely.
Brace yourselves. Despite the fact that the previously released standalone version of Oldboy includes a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, no such option appears on the newly-minted discs that come bundled in the Vengeance Trilogy box sets. Sadly, there isn't a lossless mix at all. Instead, we're privy to four fairly feeble lossy choices: a decent Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track (640kbps), a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1 dud, a flat Korean Dolby Digital stereo bore, and a mediocre English Dolby Digital stereo offering. And as anyone who's heard Oldboy's DTS-HD MA monster mix will tell you, that's a real shame. Dialogue is clear and serviceable, but lacks visceral presence. LFE output is heavy but cumbersome, failing to pack the rib-cracking punch of its lossless big brother. The rear speakers chime in, aggressively even at times, but fail to envelop the listener in the living, breathing psychological hellscape Park has manufactured. Oh Dae Su's lossy prison dampens any effect captured within its walls, exteriors sound positively artificial, and the meaty thumps and nauseating schunks that frequent Oldboy's more violent endeavors are pudgier and less effective. Is it a passable sonic presentation? Sure. Does it hold its own next to Tartan's original 7.1 lossless track? Not at all. Palisades Tartan representatives have confirmed that a replacement program is on its way -- explaining that the missing track is the result of a production mishap, nothing more -- but the company has yet to outline any subsequent details or time frames. Rest assured though, when a replacement program is announced, we'll upload a front-page news story and update this review accordingly.
The stirring DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that accompanies Lady Vengeance may be front-heavy by design, but it's reminiscent of the mix featured on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance: disciplined but proficient, involving but reserved, bold and sweeping at the same time. Composer Seung-hyun Choi's masterful score is the unequivocal high point of the presentation, reveling in his soaring strings and lofty orchestral melodies. Even when Park's protagonists grow silent, the music saturates the soundfield, wrapping viewers in the velvety warmth of his enthralling compositions. When Geum-ja provides a reenactment of her crime for the press, its intensity is nearly overwhelming; when she scales a building, it lightly dances across the speakers; when trinkets are gripped by grieving parents, it somberly waltzes in, seemingly lifting up a sweet but solemn prayer. However, Lady Vengeance is an exceedingly muted film. Its lengthy climax isn't loud or bombastic, but maddeningly modest. Its most heated encounters are beset by silence and readily subvert expectation. Thankfully, dialogue is impeccable, acoustics are authentic, ambience is fittingly meek, and LFE support emerges as the calm center of Park's haunting thematic storm. It may not grab anyone by the throat, but it impresses again and again, enhances every aspect of the film, and does it all with faithful, unwavering resolve.
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Tartan's 4-disc Vengeance Trilogy set delivers enough supplemental heat to fuel at least a dozen releases. With more than twenty hours of special features -- including seven audio commentaries, numerous documentaries and featurettes, countless interviews, several deleted scenes, and much more -- filmfans and cinephiles will be overwhelmed and overjoyed.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may have the smallest supplemental package of the trilogy (coming in at just under four hours), but it nevertheless offers a satisfying and engrossing experience that adds substantial value to the release.
Oldboy arrives with the same high-quality special features that were included on Tartan's 2007 Blu-ray release. However, the studio has taken advantage of the remaining space on the disc to reinstate an old favorite from the studio's 3-disc Collector's Edition DVD: an arresting, thoroughly absorbing three-and-a-half hour production documentary that, quite frankly, deserves a review of its own. For anyone who's counting, that means the film's supplemental package tips the scale at a whopping twelve hours. That's right... twelve hours. Be sure to set aside some serious time before diving into this one.
With more than nine hours of special features (eleven if you include the "Fade to White" cut of the film), the 2-disc Blu-ray edition of Lady Vengeance brings fitting supplemental closure to Park's Vengeance Trilogy. Having burrowed through it all, I can't think of a single question that wasn't answered somewhere on the discs. I know I've already said as much, but Tartan should be commended for the sheer number of extensive features they've packed into its terribly generous, nearly definitive 4-disc release.
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Aside from Oldboy's somewhat problematic video transfer and missing DTS-HD Master Audio track (the latter of which is admittedly a frustrating omission), there's very little about this release that doesn't warrant serious attention. (Tartan has hinted at a disc replacement program to remedy the audio mishap, but official details and dates have yet to surface.) Ah well. Shortcomings aside, both Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance boast exceptional AV presentations, the set delivers more than twenty-four hours of engrossing special features (including seven audio commentaries), and high definition junkies can finally introduce themselves to three of the most challenging, fascinating, and stunning Korean films on the international market.
Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Vengeance Trilogy Blu-ray Details Expanded (Update) - March 17, 2010
Final details have been revealed regarding Palisades Tartan's Blu-ray release of Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy, comprised of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, which as previously reported, released on March 16 as a Best Buy exclusive until ...
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