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July 21, 2014

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

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Boksuneun naui geot
Park Chan-wook - 2002
Palisades Tartan Video Blu-ray Region A

Once upon a time, there was Tartan Video, famous for its "Asian Extreme" label. Tartan Video was bought out and became Palisades Tartan in 2008. Palisades Tartan is now revived in affiliation with Kino Lorber, but the movies that are identified most with the label are the one that were released under the watch of Tartan founder Hamish McAlpine. And yes, I have seen most of those releases, and was saddened when the original company went under, the victim of its own success with a couple of imitators, perhaps too many films marketed as "Asian Extreme" and critics and viewers who didn't bother with, or care about, any cultural context for many of the best films.

I think what makes the revival of the Tartan label worthwhile is that for many of us, it allows for an opportunity to see the films again with greater familiarity with the filmmakers and actors. In the case of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, I have now seen the bulk of films by Park Chan-wook. Bae Doona, still in the early stages of her career, evolved to become a pan-Asian star, to a star in international productions. Korean film, once virtually unknown in the west, has emerged as an international powerhouse. Much has changed in the past decade.

This new home video release consolidates extras from previous releases - an audio commentary by Park with filmmaker Ryu Seong-wan who has a small role in this film, "Making of . . . " footage from the original Korean DVD release, and a brief overview of Park's career from a 2006 BBC presentation. This is one of those times when the commentary is worth listening to, as Park discusses the changes and choices made during the shooting of this film. Mentioned several times is that while Mr. Vengeance was a critical success, it was also a commercial failure, more striking in that it followed J.S.A., not only Park's biggest box office hit, but the biggest Korean film of 2000.

Park and Ryu joke about the green hair of Shin Ha-kyun, but it's the kind of comment that may prod the viewer to take notice of how green is used throughout the film, such as in a scene on an escalator, and in various rooms. There is also pink, seen on Bae Doona's t-shirt, and the radical leaflets she hands out. Helpful also is to learn that the portrait on Bae's t-shirt is of Korea's most famous anarchist. Removed from the "Asian Extreme" label that introduced Park and his earlier films to western audiences, Mr. Vengeance can now be seen for helping lay the groundwork for the visual and narrative themes Park Chan-wook would explore again in his more recent work.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 21, 2014 07:19 AM