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Originally published Friday, September 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Shock treatment, with a vengeance

Grim, grisly and self-infatuated, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" promises to be a stylish, resonant plunge into the dark waters of despair and revenge...

Special to The Seattle Times

Grim, grisly and self-infatuated, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" promises to be a stylish, resonant plunge into the dark waters of despair and revenge but ends up amusing itself with ostentatious shocks.

The 2002 thriller, winner of a Special Jury Award from the Seattle International Film Festival, is the first in Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's so-called revenge trilogy. (The other two are "Oldboy," which played at the Egyptian last April, and 2005's "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance," yet to be released here.)

Like "Oldboy," "Mr. Vengeance" is long on creative brutality, including an extended torture sequence in which a major character, Yeong-mi (Bae Due-na), is given prolonged electric shocks through heavy-duty cable clamps attached to her earlobes. Her boyfriend, a young, deaf factory worker named Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun of "Save the Green Planet!"), buys a new baseball bat late in the film for the purpose of beating in the heads of black marketeers.

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," with Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Due-na, Song Kang-ho. Directed by Park Chan-wook, from a screenplay by Park, Lee Mu-yeong, Lee Jong-yong and Lee Jae-sun. 121 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, drug use, language and sexual content. In Korean and Korean sign language with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum.

The story line finds Ryu caring for his sister, who is dying from kidney failure. Informed he is an unsuitable donor, Ryu turns to an underground ring of organ harvesters, who steal both his life savings and one of his own kidneys.

Yeong-mi, a radical leftist laid off from her factory job, encourages Ryu to raise funds by kidnapping the daughter of her former boss, the industrialist Dong-jin (Song Kang-ho). Their plot sets in motion a series of catastrophes sending a bereaved and enraged Dong-jin on a collision course with the luckless Ryu.

There is a sense of smug satisfaction in what should be many of Park's wittiest or most eloquent moments. A cheeky kind of formalism runs through the film's near-grotesque close-ups, carefully framed images of innovative bloodletting and Park's perverse assault on the senses during autopsy and cremation scenes. But lacking purpose in any meaningful context, these things make "Mr. Vengeance" look like self-referential pop art.

Tom Keogh:

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