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The best laid plans
A region 0 DVD review of SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE / BOKSUNEUN NAUL GEOT from Tartan Video's Vengeance Trilogy Box Set by Slarek

I first reviewed the first of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy when I covered the release of Tartan's Collector's Edition of the film back in April 2005, and my views on the film still stand, so if you want to read my views on the film itself then follow this link to the original review. What I intend to cover here are the differences between the that release and the one in The Vengeance Trilogy box set, notably the new transfer and the additional extra features.

The other two films in the set – Oldboy and Lady Vengeance – can be accessed through the highlighed links.

sound and vision

The box blurb assures us that the film has been digitally remastered for this release, and there is clear evidence that this is the case. For a start, the Collector's Edition featured an NTSC to PAL transfer – albeit a very good one from an excellent original – whereas here we have a proper PAL transfer, signified instantly by the shorter running time due to PAL speedup. The difference in picture quality is not as dramatic as you might think, in the main because the original transfer was so good, but there's no doubt that on close examination the new transfer does have the edge in sharpness and a lack of any motion blurring.

But there is another interesting aspect to this new transfer. When I reviewed the Collector's Edition I had some niggling doubts about the framing, believing that the picture looked uncomfortably cropped in places. I have since learned that the film was shot on Super-35, a non-anamorphic method of producing a scope picture, or indeed a picture in a variety of aspect ratios. Unless a technique known as 3-perf negative pulldown is used at the shooting stage, the image area captured is actually greater than that which is transferred to the anamorphic projection print, which does allow for a degree of reframing at the printing stage. It is clear that Mr. Vengeance was shot on open matte Super-35 but with 2.35:1 as the intended final aspect ratio – on the accompanying documentaries, the use of scope frame is discussed more than once, but extracts of the film often appear in open matte format at approximately 1.85:1. In at least one shot there is most definitely more picture information than on the release print.

Given that scope was always the intended ratio, the 2.35:1 framing both on the Collector's Edition and this release are correct, but the two transfers actually differ in the picture information included. Compare the examples below:

The top pictures are from the Collector's Edition, with the remastered
print from the Vengeance Trilogy Box Set immediately below

The top of frame cropping of the earlier release appears to have been largely corrected here, but in the process we appear to have lost information at the bottom, although if the aspect ratio is to be maintained this is somewhat inevitable. The new framing does generally feel more comfortable, and indeed makes more sense in some cases – almost all of the writing on the organ trading sticker Ryu sees on the toilet was can now be read. Slightly more unexpected is the loss of picture information at the sides. It's not much, but is clearly visible on the grabs above.

The other difference between the two is the colour timing, and although blame for this can be pointed at the NTSC to PAL transfer on the earlier release, I can't help wondering if that was perhaps the more accurately timed of the two – Park and his crew talk on the extras of the importance of green to the look of the film, and the new transfer appears to have toned that down.

As for the soundtracks – the same three Korean tracks found on the Collector's Edition are reproduced here and are as impressive as they were, but not altered in any obvious fashion.

extra features

Director's Commentary
The apostrophe in the title of this extra should really be moved one character to the right, as there are actually two directors on board here. This is the same commentary as can be found on the original release, and you can check my comments on it by accessing that review.

Jonathan Ross on Park Chan-wook (16:55)
An extract from one of Ross's film-based TV shows. How you react to this may depend on your feelings about Mr. Ross, but it does serve as a useful and heartfelt introduction to Park's work, includes an interview with Park, and covers Joint Security Area in reasonable depth. Ross's complaint that modern American films tend to "tell the audience what's going to happen, show it happening, then tell them what just happened," strikes me as right on the nose. I'd advise not watching this just before either Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Oldboy, however, as it contains spoilers for both.

The Process of Mr. Vengeance (32:06)
At first glance this appears to be a dressed-up version of the behind-the-scenes documentary on the Collector's Edition release, but in fact is more of a companion piece, drawing on similar source footage shot during the making of the film but different enough in content to still be of considerable interest. As before, the behind-the-scenes footage is intercut with on-set and on-location interviews, which tend to be longer than those on the previous documentary, and the make-up effects are covered in more detail. Extracts from the film (including those playing on the monitor behind Park Chan-wook when he is interviewed) are framed 1.85:1, and the autopsy cut that I thought pointed to framing issues on the original transfer is shown with no cut-off at all. Oddly, the documentary doesn't end so much as fade out mid-sentence

My Boksu Story (17:23)
A series of retrospective interviews in which cast members Song Kang-ho, Dae Du-na, Shin Ha-kyun, Lim Ji-eun and young Han Bo-bae talk discuss roles in the film and recall their the toughest aspects of the shoot. Song talks about nervousness over the darker elements of the script and its lack of commercial success, but all involved appear to hold the film in very high regard. There's some rather annoying microphone noise on the exterior interviews, but the sound is otherwise clear.

Crew Interviews (21:51)
Director Park Chan-wook talks about his intentions for the film, its look and its characters, and scenes we never saw. Director of photography Kim Byeong-il reveals the key reason for using Super-35 instead of anamorphic, while lighting technician Park Hyon-won chips in to a discussion about the film's colour scheme. Artistic director Oh Jae-won also has plenty to say on this and the set design, a subject also touched on by Park and set decorator Ahn Sung-hyun. The whole thing is littered with jump-cuts, sometimes in the middle of sentences.

Storyboards (9:59)
Shaking off the usual approach of either showing you a gallery of storyboards or comparing them to the finished film, here they are rapidly cut together and set to the film's soundtrack to produce a sort of faux-animated version of several scenes. Actually rather fascinating, it appears to have been pulled off low-band tape.

Original Trailer (1:49)
The original Korean trailer, no less, and rather well done.


Definitely an upgrade from the Collector's edition, largely for the extra features on disc 2. The reframing gives the actors a tad more head room (or at least no longer cuts the tops of their heads off), but in the process we've lost information at the bottom and sides. As for the colouration – well, the jury's out on that one.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
[Boksuneun naui geot]
The Vengeance Trilogy

South Korea 2002
116 mins
Park Chan-wook
Song Kan-ho
Shin Ha-kyun
Bae Du-na
Kim Je-eun
Han Bo-bae

DVD details
region 0
2.35:1 anamorphic
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby surroung 5.1 EX
DTS ES 6.1
Directors' commentary
Johnathan Ross on park Chan-wook featurette
Behind the scenes documentary
Cast interviews
Filmmaker interviews

release date
23 October 2006
review posted
8 January 2007

Related reviews
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Collector's Edition)
Oldboy (Vengeance Trilogy Edition)
Lady Vengeance
Lady Vengeance (Vengeance Trilogy Edition)

See all of Slarek's reviews