Korean Films About Revenge That Are Served Ice Cold
Wanting revenge is a natural human instinct, but most of us know better than to act on such desires. Besides, it often proves better to forgive and forget than it does to hold onto a deep-seated grudge. The characters in these Korean films, however, embrace their desire for vengeance, often relying on shocking violence as a means to this end. But what will become of them if and when they finally do achieve their revenge?
As Nietzsche once wrote, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.”
Warning: Many of the films mentioned below feature graphic violence and other elements (e.g., drug use, suicide, nudity) that may disturb viewers. I recommend checking the Parents Guide on each film’s IMDb page if you are concerned about particular triggers or other content.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” is a must-watch for fans of Korean cinema, despite being less popular than “Oldboy,” which is actually the second film in Park Chan Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. Park once said in an interview that when making this film, he wanted to make something that felt “too real,” so buckle your seat belts and get ready for a bumpy ride. This movie will make you wonder whom you should ultimately feel sympathy for, as well as whether anything good can ever come of revenge, no matter how justified it may seem. Also, don’t let the old school trailer stop you from watching this movie — it’s definitely worth your time.
“The Deal” is a movie that makes no attempt to conceal the identity of the killer or aid him in evading the police in almost miraculous ways to help propel its plot. Instead, it relies on cold, calculated revenge. The question is: Just how satisfying will revenge be in the end? After all, vengeance often comes at a cost, whether it’s in the form of money, human life, or even one’s own humanity. Although this movie doesn’t add anything new to the genre — it actually employs numerous tried-and-true elements found in various other crime films, ranging from a remorseless serial killer to gangsters — it’s still a decent watch.
It took me almost 10 years to get around to watching this movie, but let me just say that it did not disappoint. Sure, the film gets off to a bit of a slow start, taking its sweet time to get viewers acquainted with its enigmatic, taciturn lead and the charming girl who lives next door to him. By the time we get to the second half of the film, however, it becomes obvious that we’re watching a man who won’t be stopped until he saves the day or destroys everyone else and possibly even himself. The film’s dark atmosphere in general also lets us know that this movie makes no guarantee of a happy ending, maintaining its suspense and intensity until the very end. If you aren’t a Won Bin fan going into this movie, you likely will be one by the end of it.
Watch “The Man From Nowhere”:
“The Villainess” pulls no punches during its opening scene, pitting the protagonist — who it turns out is a highly skilled killer — against what feels like an endless onslaught of attackers. Clearly, someone has messed with the wrong woman. The action doesn’t stop there though. Having been raised by criminals and later trained by a covert intelligence group, the protagonist continually shows she is a force to be reckoned with as she seeks to exact revenge on those who hurt her and her family. While this film leaves much to be desired narrative-wise, its kinetic action sequences that almost leave you wondering which way is up make this an entertaining watch nevertheless. In fact, the cinematography overall was enjoyable.
I Saw the Devil
You know a movie means serious business when even its trailer says it’s been approved for mature audiences only. (The one I’ve embedded here is the more subdued of the two trailers I found and did not come with the same advisement, though it’s still quite intense.) Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten around to watching this one yet, but I have seen some clips and can confirm that people aren’t joking when they say this movie is brutally violent, perhaps almost excessively so. Then again, people sometimes go to horrific lengths in real life for the sake of revenge, so what’s there stopping someone from going even further in the world of fiction?
As a parent, what would you do if someone murdered your child? On top of that, how helpless would you feel knowing that her murderers were still roaming free while the police told you to simply wait at home? Would you take it upon yourself to ensure her killers are brought to justice in the end? Well, that’s what the father in “Broken” does, showing that even children (albeit high school age ones) can become victims of revenge. He might wind up losing more than he bargained for by seeking out his own form of justice though. Whether you’re a parent or not, this film is bound to stir up some emotions in you, largely thanks to the lead actor’s great portrayal of a grief-stricken father.
“Monster” separates itself from most other revenge films by giving its protagonist not, say, incredible ingenuity or weapons training, but an indefatigable nature along with what might be considered blind courage. Unlike the protagonists in many of the other films mentioned above, this heroine feels very much like the underdog as she engages in a deadly game of cat and mouse. For me, this film falls short of its potential, but it still has some noteworthy moments (such as the final encounter between the heroine and the villain), and Lee Min Ki’s performance as the psychopathic antagonist is spot on.
What’s your favorite tale of cold-blooded revenge?
seheee is a software engineer by day and an avid K-pop concert goer by night. You can find her on twitter @_seheee.