‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ and Four More Films For Park Chan-wook’s Birthday

It’s Park Chan-wook’s birthday! To mark the occasion, here are five of his lesser-known movies. Check some of these out.

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002)

The first of the Vengeance Trilogy and one of Chan-wook’s rawest productions. The story centers around a deaf and mute brother who is desperately seeking money to fund a kidney transplant for his sister. A classic example of a story where events spiral out of control, this might just be the most difficult watch of all the films I’ll recommend. Just when you think a low point has been hit, it descends even further. The pacing is notably slow at points and there are some happenstances to advance the plot, but Chan-wook’s directorial skills are on full display with some beautiful framing and camerawork. It’s another work of art from a master of his craft but not for the faint of heart. 

The Handmaiden (2016)

After trying his hand in America, Chan-wook returned to his Korean roots and gave us what is probably his best-known release after Oldboy. Inspired by the novel Fingersmith, females take the lead this time around with Kim Min-hee playing a wealthy heiress and Kim Tae-ri as the con artist hired as her maid. The plot plays out spectacularly as it twists and turns. And then twists again. Chan-wook’s films are notable for their erotism and The Handmaiden takes that one step further. If you are particularly prudish this might not be for you but be warned, you will be missing out on one of this decade’s greatest films. 

Thirst (2009)

The late 2000s saw the release of Twilight and the world seemed to go vampire crazy. In 2009 Chan-wook released Thirst and although it may feature vampires, it’s a very different take on the genre. The ever-present Kang Ho-song plays a Catholic Priest trying to resist numerous urges. Whats starts as a horror transitions into a love story and almost everything else in between. It might be one of Chan-wook’s weakest films, but it’s definitely worth a watch just to see his unique take on a stale genre.

Joint Security Area (2000)

One of Chan-wook’s earlier releases, Joint Security Area focuses on the investigation into a fatal shooting that occurs in the Korean demilitarized zone. A member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission is enlisted to find out who is responsible. Due to the delicate situation and possibility of an all-out war being initiated, everything rests on a knife-edge. The tension is palpable as we hear different accounts of what happened and eventually go back to explore how a close bond formed between a group of guards from both North and South Korea. A great example depicting how the horrors of war don’t always happen on the battlefield, the conclusion and final shot are heartbreaking.

Lady Vengeance (2005)

The Vengeance Trilogy is capped off with Lady Vengeance. Yet another story full of violence, as a mother seeks revenge for being wronged. Chan-wook’s trademark bold colours and inventive shots are ever-present with Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) returning to embody a superb antagonist. As the story progresses the line between good and evil becomes blurred and we are left with some difficult questions to answer. If you can seek out the fade to black and white edition, I strongly recommend it. A unique experience that starts in full colour visuals then gradually transitions to black and white. It adds an extra level of beauty to the film and also makes some of the later gore-filled scenes more palatable. An excellent finale to one of the greatest trilogies ever made.

What are some of your favourite films directed by birthday boy Park Chan-wook?

Author: Lee McCutcheon

Happy to watch absolutely anything, with a soft spot for world cinema.