Monday, November 24, 2014

Oldboy (2003)


Directed by Park Chan-wook.
2003. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Cast:
Min-sik Choi
Ji-tae Yu
Hye-jeong Kang
Dae-han Ji
Dal-su Oh
Byeong-ok Kim

Oh Dae Su (Choi) has made a few enemies during his life. Part of the reason for this seems to be that he is a heavy drinker and gets out of control when intoxicated. We meet him at the end of a wild night in a police station where they are keeping him until he sobers up. When he's released, someone else snatches him up. He wakes up the next day in a hotel room with no windows and only one door which he cannot open. He has no idea who put him there, or why, and no contact with the outside world. At least they gave him a TV. All of a sudden, after fifteen long years have passed, he is released without being given any information. He immediately sets out to find the person responsible for this and kill whoever that might be. This is adapted from a popular Japanese manga of the same name.

Director Park Chan-wook does a wonderful job pulling us into the mind of our protagonist. Not only does he use the tried and true method of having him narrate the movie, but the images that accompanies this narration perfectly complement it instead of merely repeating it. In fact, the look of the movie as a whole is a strong point. As is often the case with Chan-wook, many of the shots would make wonderful stills. One in particular opens with a great panoramic view of a hallway containing Oh Dae Su and a bunch of guys waiting to tear him apart. A fight between he and them then plays out in one long and glorious take. If you're familiar with the movie then you know that I am referring to the famous hammer fight. It's just a wonderful spectacle. Regardless of how pretty any of it is, though, it's the story-telling on display that really engages us. We're immediately curious about our hero's situation. When he is finally let go, we are anxious for him to start the task of finding out who the bad guy is. As he is trying to do so, we're rooting for him to get to the bottom of it.

True, this movie hardly shies away from violence and other grotesque things. After all, one of the first things we see our hero do after he finds his way to a restaurant for the first time is eat a live octopus. During the action sequences, blood splatters quite nicely. However, those things don't drive the movie. What makes it go is the winding road traveled by Oh Dae Su. Even when he finds out who is responsible, that person continues to send him on goose chases. Through every step of the process, Min-sik Choi plays the role perfectly. He conveys a man who is weary from all that's happened, yet determined not to stop until he gets the answers he needs.As his opposite, Ji-tae Yu provides a sadistic villain and really turns things up a notch whenever he appears.


You can probably tell, but I'm a big fan of this movie's cinematography, narration, action, violence, and story telling. However, what I am an even bigger fan of is the ending that they all work toward in unison. Even though that by the time we get there, we've seen things that might turn our stomachs, the thought of what happens is far more disturbing. It's the piece of the film that sticks with us the longest. The first time I watched this movie, I literally couldn't get it out of my head for days. It's the type of thing any sane person couldn't fathom doing. It's also the type of thing you can't help but admire the director for because it would be real easy to go with a more palatable finale. Doing so might have made the movie more acceptable, but also more forgettable. Here, we have some things to discuss and even debate. We have to decide on whether we not we think it's a happy ending. It depends on from whose point of view are you looking. Of course, we could talk about what we would have done in that situation. As this is a movie about vengeance, we can even discuss who got revenge on whom. In other words, who won?

What Park Chan Wook has done is create a film that continuously draws us deeper into its fold and refuses to let us go. After the credits roll, it lingers with us, even if it's just us remarking how screwed up it is. Along with you doing that, you'll probably question how could the person left standing do such a thing. For that matter, how the person not standing have done such a thing. This is a movie that gets inside your head, sits there and conversates with you. For me, that makes it a masterpiece.

10 comments:

  1. Probably too violent to become an all-time favorite of mine, but I love the soundtrack, and the editing and visuals impressed me a lot too. There are scenes and images from Oldboy which have become lodged in my brain, particularly the fight in the hallway and the octopus, both of which you highlighted.

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    1. It is indeed one of my all time favorites. Each time I revisit it that thought is confirmed. And yeah, those two scenes are memorable, to say the least.

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  2. I loved Oldboy when I finally saw the subtitled version. I originally watched the dub first, and it was so distractingly bad. Great review!

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    1. I've seen it both ways and felt the same both times. I guess I've seen so many ridiculously poorly dubbed kung fu flicks that I thought this one was pretty good, lol.

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  3. I fucking love this film. It was a long time ago when I saw it and holy shit. It blew me away. I love the violence of it as I felt it had a sense of impact and it was engaging as well. It's still my favorite Chan-wook Park film so far....

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    1. I've watched it several times and I'm blown away each time. Not just my favorite Park film but one of my favorite movies, period.

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  4. Easily one of my favorite movies of all time. I swear this movie changed me. Like, my DNA was altered forever. Story telling at its pinnacle.

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    1. Mine was also altered. I am certain I've been different since the moment I finished watching it for the very first time.

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  5. Oldboy is one reason I admire Park Chan-wook's works! Not only the twist that got me thrilled, but the ambiguous ending which always makes my stomach spinning. However, I don't pick it as my lifetime favorite 'cause I got another work by Chan-wook that pretty impress me, Thirst.

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    1. Thirst is awesome, as well. I picked it as my top vampire flick of this century.

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