Park Chan-wook is a dazzlingly good director who plies his trade on grisly crime yarns. His ''Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," which opens today at the Brattle, is a thriller that finds amusement in the ugliest scenarios. The first in his revenge trilogy -- it opened in South Korea three years ago -- the film arrives here after the second installment, ''Oldboy," which played in the spring. Volume three, ''Sympathy for Lady Vengeance," is expected to make landfall next year.
''Mr. Vengeance" is the story of Ryu (Shin Ha Kyun), a deaf-mute laborer with toxic green hair, whose sister (Lim Ji Eun) is gravely ill from years of factory work. A kidney transplant might save her, but the doctors deem Ryu an unfit donor, and the odds of finding a suitable match are terrible. So he goes where any desperate soul would for a kidney: to the black market.
Things there go horribly wrong (the folks running the organ ring are thieving junkie perverts), and faster than you can say ''O. Henry," a legitimate but unaffordable kidney is available.
To raise money, Ryu's budding anarchist girlfriend (the fabulously flip Bae Doona) suggests kidnapping a little girl. The girl's father, played with authoritative melancholy by Song Kang Ho, vows to kill whoever has taken his daughter. And so what begins as a last-ditch effort descends into gruesomeness. Ryu hunts for the organ thieves. The kidnapped girl's dad hunts for Ryu. And nothing ends well for anybody.
Except perhaps for us. Park has made a pristine-looking movie with astounding framing and a deftly handled sociopolitical bent (wage slaves, bosses, anarchists, oh my!). But he's a whiz with tone, too. He knows how to get a laugh, and he knows how to get a gasp.
The violence in the final 45 minutes of ''Mr. Vengeance" is tough to watch. But it doesn't compare with the horrors in either Park's ''Oldboy" (the director has a fixation with suffering kids) or the wicked wretchedness afoot in ''Saw II," also opening this weekend. In ''Mr. Vengeance," Park prizes craftsmanship over bargain-bin schlock. It's an odd testament to his spiritedness that, despite the coldblooded killing and trail of the dead, ''Mr. Vengeance" feels warmly suffused with life.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.