For months and months, everyone has been telling me how much I need to see Oldboy. I was all set to add it to my Netflix queue, when I realized that director Chan-wook Park had created a sort of stylistic trilogy in 2005, and I wanted to watch them in order. I'm very picky about watching movies or reading books in order if I can, so I waited and waited to watch Oldboy until I had time to watch the first film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In fact, I still haven't seen Oldboy, though it is coming next on my queue. Last night I settled in to watch Sympathy, which I was expecting to be a suspenseful gore-fest. What I got was...something else.
I've seen some weird movies, both domestic and foreign. I've seen crazy game shows and other random snippets of things on TV that have thrown me for a loop. And that's not even talking about the internet. Online, there is a whole world of strange that a single person can only scratch the surface of. When I was finished watching Sympathy last night, I turned to my friend Evan and said something which most adequately describes what we had just experienced. "I've seen a video of a Japanese girl in a pleather kitten costume fellating a severed octopus tentacle, and that made more narrative sense than this movie."
The beginning of Sympathy is promising. The plot and character motivations are set up, and bad things start to happen that cause that perfect sense of suspenseful unease that a viewer is supposed to feel at the beginning of a horror movie, before all the really bad things happen. Our protagonist (?), Ryu, is a deaf-mute factory worker whose sister is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Since he is the wrong blood type, they are waiting for an organ to become available from a suitable donor. Increasingly panicked that this isn't going to happen, Ryu contacts a black market organ tradeswoman, who says she will find him a kidney in return for one of his own, and 10 million Won. He wakes up naked in an abandoned building, missing a kidney and without any of the money he had saved up. The junkie "surgeon" has escaped the deal and will not be providing a kidney for his sister. A few weeks later, their real doctor informs them that there is finally a match off the donor list. "You still have that 10 million Won saved up, right?"
Ryu's girlfriend Yeong-mi, some sort of political activist (frankly, I never understood her manifesto), encourages him to kidnap Yu-sun, the daughter of Park, who is the president of the company who had fired him for missing too many days at work after his dirty kidney surgery, and use the ransom money to pay for Ryu's sister's surgery. Since they are not bad people, they kidnap her, but they treat her very well, and tell her that they are friends of her father's who are babysitting for a while. This is also the story that Ryu and his girlfriend tell to his sister. For some time they all live together quite happily, waiting for the ransom to go through. While Ryu and Yeong-mi are out getting the briefcase full of money from Park, Ryu's sister finds out that Yu-sun is not a friend's daughter, but a kidnapping victim. (Sidenote: Bo-bae Han, who plays Yu-sun, is possibly the cutest little girl ever. All little kids should wear big glasses to remind me of myself as a little girl!) Distraught, and worried that she is too much of a burden to her brother because of her illness, Ryu's sister kills herself. Whoops. Ryu takes her body to the lake where they played as children, because that is where she wanted to be buried. Of course, he can't leave Yu-sun alone, so she has to come along. Poor thing. Of course, she drowns.
This is when things start getting weeeeeird. I can't even really describe the rest of the movie. The cops get involved. There's a mentally retarded guy who comes out of nowhere and just changes everything up. There's a totally random sex scene, a couple of murderous rampages, and at least two autopsies which Park is a witness to for NO reason whatsoever. Honestly, I have no idea what the message of this movie was supposed to be. Evan was able to gleam some sort of communist sentiment from it, based off of the apparent victory of Yeong-mi's terrorist group above all the other characters, but that was a bit of a stretch.
Really, I don't even know what to say. It was an experience. Some of the scenes were certainly visually appealing, and I am still quite looking forward to Oldboy. But Sympathy wasn't even that gory or frightening. It was just totally confusing. After watching it, Evan and I tried to come up with a list of movies we'd seen that were worse, and when movies like Battlefield Earth and Must Love Dogs are out there, it really throws off the whole curve. More to come when I get to see Oldboy and Lady Vengeance next.
*the movie ends*
Evan: For real?
Evan: Fuh reeeal?
Evan: Was this worse than Serendipity?