Review No. 606

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess his name!



English — “Oldboy”
Hangul Korean — “올드보이”
Revised Romanization of Korean — “Oldeuboi”
McCune—Reischauer Korean — “Oldŭboi”

Director — Park Chan-Wook
Producer — Im Seung-yong, Kim Dong-joo
Screenplay — Mr. Chan-wook, Hwang Jo-yoon & Im Joon-hyeong
Based on — Old Boy by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi

Choi Min-sik — Oh Dae-su
Yoo Ji-tae — Lee Woo-jin
Kang Hye-jung — Mi-do

Distributor — Show East (South Korea); Palisades Tartan (USA)
Release Date — November 21, 2003 (South Korea); May 15, 2004 (Cannes Film Festival); March 25, 2005 (USA)
Language — Korean
Country — South Korea
Running Time — 2 hours


Park Chan-Wook looks at a human heart as a large room.  There’s some drywall trying to hide something, and he’s one of a few elites capable of stripping it down to get to whatever’s behind that drywall.  It could be emptiness, but that certainly isn’t the case with Oldboy.  There’s a story to tell here; the opening is funny, the body is thrilling, and the concluding act is emotional.  It’s everything and nothing like The Shawshank Redemption, with a character everything and nothing like Guy Pearce’s in Memento.  (Though as far as the nonlinear structure and the revenge story, it’s more of Memento.)

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is suffering his own Socrates parallel; or so he seems to think.  Dae-su is a man who ponders two philosophies.  One is seemingly his own:

“Be it a rock or a grain of sand, in water they sink as the same.”

The other, the first two lines of “Solitude” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”

Dae-su ponders these adages while he’s in prison and after he is released.  He doesn’t know why he was imprisoned in the first place, but every day brings more hatred to him, as he finds good company in his television.  He remains in prison for fifteen years, and when he gets out, he’s ready to exact revenge on those who put him in prison.  He’ll torture them for answers–or he’ll proceed to kill them.  He is far more violent than he remembers ever being before his time in prison, and he blames those who imprisoned him.  So is he criminally insane, or was he always a monster?  Only his answers can say.

Getting his answers is where Dae-su transforms this movie into one of the bloodiest experiences ever made.  This is the story of a cold-blooded killer, one who rips fifteen teeth out of one man’s mouth using the claw of a hammer, and claims it’s to represent his fifteen years in prison; I won’t dare mention his ultimate self-inflicting act, but it’s even more difficult to watch.  You’d think a torture scene matched with Vivaldi’s “Winter” would be beautiful, as using Beethoven’s 9th Symphony achieved these satirical effects in 1971.  I’m not exactly averse to torture scenes when they’re done well, but I’m almost led to believe that such scenes were to torture the audience.

But “almost,” of course, means we’ve crossed a fine line between two polar opposites.  The movie is highly entertaining in just about every other moment it offers.  Even in dialogue scenes, we have to agree with this man.  Obviously he’s insane.  That’s not up for question; just how long he has been insane, and whose fault it really is.  But even in his most brutal actions, we have such sympathy for him.

Speaking of sympathy: Oldboy is the midway point in Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy, surrounded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.  Assuming there’s a focus on sympathy in the first and third films, Vengeance is a misnomer; it’s the should-be Sympathy trilogy, and I wouldn’t doubt if Oldboy were the defining piece of all three.  We truly sympathize for this character, despite that he’s as terrible as el diablo himself.  Please allow him to introduce himself…



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