Before director Park Chan-Wook placed Korea on the map of international cinema with Oldboy (Park 2003), the first of his vengeance trilogy reached out to its audience in 2002. Albeit this lesser known vengeance film was not a box office hit, Park had been criticaly acclaimed for his direction, visually striking images, and the overall experimental style.
While Oldboy marks Park’s definitive entrance into the foreign market, Mr. Vengeance still leaves a significant impression on the entire Asian cinema. The editors of the film, brothers Kim Sang-Bum and Kim Jae-Bum have had an outstanding filmography, including Oldboy and many other renowned Korean masterpieces. Awarded Best Editing in distinguished film festivals for Mr. Vengeance, the Kims entice the audience with their subtle yet disturbing editing in order to bring forth the film’s interesting juxtaposition of tranquility and extreme gore.
Mr. Vengeance tells the story of the intertwined fates of three characters, Ryu (Shin Ha-Kyun), Park Dong-Jin (Song Kang-Ho), and Cha Young-Mi (Bae Doo-Na).
Ryu, a deaf-mute man, hopes to provide a kidney for his ill sister. Persuaded by his anarchist girlfriend, he decides to kidnap the daughter of his ex-boss’s friend in need of the money he loses to an organ dealer (so-called “good kidnapping”). When Dong-Jin’s daughter accidentally drowns, Dong-Jin turns on his wheels of vengeance towards Ryu.
With that said, here is a particularly powerful scene with an incredibly effective edit. Beginning with the little girl yelling at Ryu from the car while he is burying his sister by a riverbed, the girl’s voice rings from a faraway distance while an odd, mentally disabled stranger throws rocks into the river. Here, the stranger’s uncomfortable grunts and the sound of the water splash overpower the little girl’s weak voice. Later, at the shot of Ryu’s hands placing rocks on his sister’s body, another water splash is heard from a distance. The segment becomes a bit more tranquil from here on—however, it is this tranquility that enables the audience to feel more discomfort, for they can only hear the sounds of the wind and the birds chirping. While Ryu stares at his sister’s dead body, the audience suddenly sees the little girl flowing down the river, crying for Ryu even more desperately. Evidently, the editors has tricked the audience into believing that the water splash from before when Ryu places the rocks is simply because of another rock that the stranger throws into the river. However, it is actually the sound of the little girl slipping into the river—thus, the audience has been in the same shoe as Ryu, not being able to hear correctly or recognize the danger of the situation.
A quick but shocking shot of the little girl’s dead body flowing across the river appears, and the audience hears absolute silence for that moment. When Ryu turns around to see the little girl’s body, a highly disturbing transitional music that incorporates a drumming noise and a shrill string instrument noise is introduced. The following slow-motion tracking shot of Ryu running across the bridge signifies that he is already too late to save the girl. The ominous music continues in the background until Ryu’s fear of the water is revealed in text, and the segment cuts to the shot, from inside the water, that points up to Ryu, who takes a violent step forward. While the shots from the water have symbolized Ryu’s fear and the mysteriousness of the water, music stops, and the audience sees a wide shot of Ryu, clearly tall enough for the water. Soon, the segment ends, taking an unusually long time from the wide shot to the subsequent shots of Ryu and the little girl. Thus, the audience is given the time, just as Ryu is given the time, to absorb the moment of no return: terrible, uncomfortable, disturbing, and tragically tranquil.