Oldboy is the second instalment of director Park Chan-wook’s ”Vengeance trilogy” and is arguably the best entry in the series. It is regarded as one of the best mystery/thriller films ever made…in any language. Here is the trailer:
Oldboy stars Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su who is kidnapped on the day of his daughter’s 4th birthday. He finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room with all his basic needs cared for. All without reason and without any hope of release and with only a TV for company. Dae-su begins to plot his vengeance but after 15 years of solitary training and toil with his escape almost at hand, he is swiftly released back into the world. With just as little understanding as 15 years ago. Dae-su then begins his quest for vengeance against his captors.
That rough synopsis is all you are getting, any more would ruin it! (See picture below) Half the joy of this film is wondering what each clue means. Wondering who did this. What unspeakable action meant Dae-su deserved this. The only information you get is what he gets. You are part of the mystery yourself. There is no expositional Morgan Freeman voiceover. You are not given all the answers. This film does not reduce itself into bite-size easy to swallow chunks, it is not dumbed down. This film assumes you have a better IQ than a glass of water. That is reason enough to watch the film!
Ask anyone about Oldboy and they will talk (at length if my experience is anything to go by) about THAT CORRIDOR FIGHT SCENE! This and all the action scenes are beautifully choreographed, shot and completed but what makes them memorable is their realism! They are brutal, gritty and violent. Dae-su is not this super-human martial arts expert decimating his opponents, he is vicious, inelegant, like a cornered animal. He fights like a man who has nothing to live for except vengeance. This makes sense…Yes Dae-su spent 15 years training BUT he was punching a chalk outline on a wall. He has never had an opponent. He learnt watching combat sports on TV but spend just as much time fantasizing about a Korean pop star! He is not in Neo in the matrix, just a pissed off middle-aged man who is in dire need of a hair cut.
This film is intense. There is no way around it… Dae-su does not have a good time. Oldboy deals with hard themes and ideas; revenge, violence, torture, sex, death, relationships, isolation. But by dealing with these issues head on and revealing each new horror one by one we are forced to deal with these issues and really comes to grips with some big questions. Even better is that the violence is stylized and always finds the line between intense, unsettling visuals and over the top gratuity. Film makers could learn a thing or two here (ESPECIALLY HORROR FRANCHISES). OVER THE TOP GORE =/= INTENSITY OR HORROR. JUST NAUSEA. See this film for reference as how to do it properly. Of particular note are the tooth pulling scenes, hard to watch but impossible to look away from. A scene involving a tongue gets pretty out of hand too!
This really is an incredible film, full of suspense, thrills and action. The ending reveal lives up to all horrifying expectations and then some. It turns Dae-su’s world upside down and feeds on everything any of us hold dear. Well any one who is well adjusted and not a psychopath. It is truly an amazing achievement in story telling! There was a 2013 american remake as well but I would recommend watching the original first!
VERDICT: ”Laugh… and the world laughs with you. Weep… and you weep alone.”