The Sympathizer Review: Park Chan-wook, the auteur filmmaker behind cult classics like Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy, and The Handmaiden, is making his American OTT debut with The Sympathizer. Set around the Vietnam War (referred to by the Vietnamese as "The American War"), The Sympathizer is based on Viet Thanh Nguyen's acclaimed novel of the same name. The first episode is available on JioCinema (in India), and it marks a riveting start to what promises to be a pulsating, psychological ride, filled with the director's trademark black humour and unsettling imagery (still quite mild going by his previous works at least for the first episode). The Sympathizer Trailer: Robert Downey Jr Essays Multiple Characters in Park Chan-wook’s Spy Thriller Co-Starring Hoa Xuande; HBO Series to Premiere on April 14.

Our protagonist in The Sympathizer is The Captain (Hoa Xuande), a police officer during the Vietnam War who outwardly appears loyal to the South Vietnam-American faction but is, in fact, a mole working for the communist North Vietnam faction. He acts as a lackey to the General (Toan Le) but keeps passing information to his childhood friend, Man (Duy Nguyễn), who is also his contact within the North Vietnam camp.

Watch the Trailer of The Sympathizer:

As is typical in spy sagas, the double games and the mental turmoil of having to navigate both sides take a toll on The Captain, who eagerly awaits the fall of Saigon to end his double-agent charade. However, he is once again tasked by Man to continue spying on The General, even as the latter plans his escape to the United States of America.

A Still From The Sympathizer

Created in collaboration with Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar, Park Chan-wook's The Sympathizer begins near the end, with The Captain now a prisoner in the North Vietnam camp and asked to document his activities as a spy. The show, while narrating his saga through flashbacks, does not adhere strictly to a linear format of storytelling, often jumping back and forth in timelines. While this approach may not be the most innovative, it serves to unsettle the audience's perception of where The Captain's loyalties truly lie.

A Still From The Sympathizer

Regardless of its occasional complexity, the non-linear format enhances the pacing while showcasing The Captain's duplicitous nature, alongside Chan-wook's skill in blending tense drama, haunting visuals, and dark humour. A notable instance of this is the capture and torture of a female informant. The production design, depicting the war-torn Saigon, is commendable, and the episode reaches its peak in the final scenes as the General's entourage attempts to escape Saigon alive.

A Still From The Sympathizer

The performances thus far have been excellent, with Hoa Xuande, known for Cowboy Bebop, skillfully conveying the psychological turmoil of his character. Recent Oscar-winner Robert Downey Jr will make multiple appearances as four separate characters in the show (did the creators take inspiration from Dibakar Banerjee's Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!?). In the first episode, he portrays Claude, a conniving CIA agent in Vietnam. Needless to say, RDJ steals the scene effortlessly, and I am eager to see how he navigates the other three characters. Toan Le, as the vain General, delivers another standout performance. Robert Downey Jr Opens Up on Potential MCU Return As Iron Man, Academy Award Winner Says ‘It’s Too Integral a Part of My DNA’.

Final Thoughts on The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer kicks off with a thrilling start, effectively capturing the political landscape of its time while lending itself well as a spy thriller. It navigates the complexities of the Vietnam War era without glorifying any particular side. With strong performances and engaging set-pieces, the eight-episode miniseries establishes a solid foundation in its debut episode. We're eagerly anticipating further exploration of The Captain's reluctant involvement in spy games and the portrayal of RDJ's other three characters in the upcoming episodes.


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 15, 2024 04:24 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website