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Oldboy (KOREA 2003)

Director : Park Chanwook
Cast :  Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-heong Kang, Dae-han Ji, Dal-su Oh, Byeong-ok Kim and Seung-Shin Lee.

Oh Dae-su is an ordinary Seoul businessman with a wife and little daughter. After a drunken night on the town, he is abducted and locked up in a strange, private “prison.” No one will tell him why he’s there and who his jailer is and his fury builds to single-minded focus of revenge. 15 years later, he is unexpectedly freed, given a new suit, a cell phone and 5 days to unravel the mystery and discover the identity of the enemy who had him imprisoned.

by Edward Tang

Basically seeing this film for the first time is probably one of the better experiences you can have watching cinema. I didn’t think that film could live up to expectations. Frankly, I was surprised that this film was over two years old when I first saw it because it felt so very new to me when I was given the opportunity to view probably one of the true masterpieces of modern cinema. The film has basically everything going for it, whether it’s a complete story that moves you along and never stops until the credits role, or the fact that the actors truly capture their roles, or just because you can still have fun with this film. “Old Boy” is the second Vengeance film in the Park Chanwook trilogy, the first being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the final being Sympathy for Lady Vengeance which was just released this year. Old Boy fits into that classic middle chapter that might just make it the most disturbing of all films. During this film we are given some horrific details on why this all went about, which still has me thinking up these entire theories on how Dae-su will live with himself. The only part that makes me scratch my head is the final scenes, a little bit stupid for my taste, but it doesn’t take away from the movie.

Dae-su is a businessman, who gets drunk one night and gets arrested. When he gets out of the police station, he calls his daughter and says hello. His friend grabs the phone and talks for a few seconds. When he turns around, Dae-su is gone. He wakes up later in a “prison” of sorts, not one that you would imagine. The prison looks like an apartment, where he does get a meal everyday and is able to watch TV. “The TV is both a clock and a calendar. It’s your school, your home, your church, your friend…” He also learns that his “friend” also is his worst enemy, as the TV tells him of his wife’s death, and how he is the one who is suspected. For his prison time he begins to “fight”, he even gives himself a tattoo for every year he was imprisoned. After he spends 15 years in the prison, he awakes on the outside, and finds himself in a new suit. He talks to a man and tells him his story, and gets himself use to back to the environment of the world. Going into a restaurant, he wants to eat something alive (I’ll explain later) and meets Mi-do. In this time, his cell phone rings and he is met with a voice, this voice tells him that he is the one who put him in the prison, and that he has to discover why he was in prison. After this, Dae-su passes out and later finds himself in Mi-do’s house. His goal becomes complete, to find out why he was imprisoned and who did it, so he can exact his revenge.

Saying much more would probably give away some of the storied aspect that I would want the person who hasn’t seen this film to find out by themselves. Park Chanwook masterfully crafts this story into one that keeps us on the edge of our seats until we find out the conclusion. Who really is taking vengeance in this film? Sure, Dae-su is the one who lost 15 years of his life, but his prisoner has a secret of his own. His style and pace seems alot more harsh than Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, where you might recall a scene that is one of those that won’t leave you for quite some time. He bites the head off a live octopus, if you were just wondering. I think Park Chanwook’s style makes this film even better, and people out there will probably miss it when the 2006 American version makes its appearance. The people in Oldboy aren’t good people, their actions aren’t forgivable and the only option is the “far-fetched” yet equally important conclusion that Dae-su makes.

For some reason, I found an odd humor out of this film. Especially in the beginning when Dae-su is f*ckin’ around with the police department, it got me to like his character. But equally impressive was how 15 years in prison truly changed him into the monster that he refers to himself as. He even explains this as such in his effective ramblings that is one of the only times that voice-over isn’t abused to the point of pure annoyance. The fight scenes in this film are awesome, from a 5 minute duel through a hallway that shows Chanwook can do some right in the kickass way. This fight showed the transition of what Dae-su had become, and how his goal in life was simple. Maybe the interesting part of this film is that we know of these extreme tortures that the characters are put through, yet we never see them in action. There is teeth pulling and the removal of a tongue via a pair of scissors but we don’t need to see it, the notion of such is bad enough.

What is equally impressive is the fact that we consider in the beginning that Dae-su is truly the hero. Yet even his goal seems to be converged in the fact that somebody is pissed off at him for doing something. When we find out what exactly happened, Dae-su’s ignorance eventually became his failure. This might be a ploy in a way that when you say something, make sure it doesn’t have any negative effects. We are given the finale, a truly emotion ride that is fueled by one man’s hate for the other. The end results are equally as shocking as they are disgusting. The plan had backfolded on Dae-su, for what he learns changes the entire mind frame of what he initially perceived. Fueled by rage before, he is now only controlled by confusion and regret. His prisoner’s plan was truly devious yet vastly resourceful (maybe a little bit unbelievable) but still does the final moments of the film justice. Now for the ending, I was a little bit disappointed by how Dae-su copes with his new found information. As I think of it now, I really don’t know another way out that doesn’t involve death, so I guess that was the only option.

Min-sik Choi’s performance is one to behold, which I think is an accurate portrayal of what a man who fell into his position would actually do. He is believable and some what sympathetic until his character begins to fall into the category of unforgivable. I don’t really consider him the hero, I consider him to be just as much in line with the actions of Ji-tae Yu’s character. Ji-tae Yu has somewhat of a cockiness to him, because he truly believes in what he is accomplishing. Although he does serve another purpose as well, his character is also there to be able to hate and love at the same time. He did accomplish what he needed too, to give the feeling of what he had been with through his entire life, which didn’t even register in Dae-su’s head at the end. Both characters play off each other well, both being of different personality and of total character.

I didn’t really know how to review this film without giving away the ending. Just like in the days when you couldn’t tell anyone that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, this film relies on this ending to give us the emotional punch in the testicles (or vagina if you prefer). Old Boy is quite possibly the most unique film I’ve seen in a while, and it’s good to see something that isn’t horribly cliched like most vengeance films (“I must avenge my father). I can’t wait for part three.

Plot : 5/5
Acting : 5/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 5/5

Notable Scenes
- The fight down the hallway
- the revealed truth behind Dae-su’s imprisonment
- Dae Su’s eating of a live octopus.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Old Boy

Comments (4 comments)

Simply sublime… This is filmmaking at its finest.

elcapitan / August 26th, 2007, 5:25 am

Brilliant film.

After watching this i had to make sure everyone else watch it.

gavin / September 16th, 2007, 6:24 pm

The movie was good, but the twist was disturbing. Very disturbing. Disgustingly disturbing.

KmL / November 19th, 2007, 3:14 pm

my faveorite film of all time..
one thing that he didnt mention is the amazing camra angles.

Danny / December 14th, 2007, 2:55 am

What do you think?