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Oldboy (2003)

  Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Chan-wook Park, Garon Tsuchiya
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu
Links: Oldboy on the IMDb
Genre: Action

This movie gets: 9.50 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 6th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Oldboy (2003) is also mentioned in timchuma's review of Crying Fist (2005), pearly's review of Monday (2000) and pearly's review of Three... Extremes (2004).

"The neverending cycle" - a review by pearly

Up for a bit of weirdness? You'd better be, cos that's what South Korea's Oldboy delivers. We're not talking David Lynch-style weirdness though, it's more the shock style of Larry Clark, with extra lashings of oddness mixed in.

And I like it! Allow me to outline the premise for you. Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) mysteriously disappears at the beginning of the film, whilst drunk. He finds himself being held captive in a small apartment, where his only human contact is with the hand that delivers him food through a doggy-door style contraption. Other than this, he is left a prisoner, for reasons that are unknown to him. Dae-su goes through various phases - he feels anger towards his keepers, confusion at his imprisonment, boredom, occasional contentment, and so on.

Dae-su must survive fifteen years in this way, being allowed to watch television, but never to leave his few rooms, and always being fed the same dumplings. Despite getting some way towards forging his own escape, he is (again mysteriously) freed at the fifteen year point. The direction of the film then changes tack, as Dae-su tries to figure out why he was kidnapped, and whether or not knowledge or revenge is more important to him.

There are a few really great things about Oldboy. Firstly, there's the acting. I thought that Choi was awesome as the lead character of Dae-su, which is quite a feat, as I usually find it difficult to pick an outstanding actor in a film in a foreign (to me) language. The other wonderful thing is the direction - the film is beautiful to look at, but there is also a subtlety in the delivery of the story which allows you to think for yourself a little and figure things out, or perhaps to form your own interpretation, but not so much as to make the film confusing. It's a fine line, which Chan-wook Park manages to gracefully tightrope walk across.

There were a few subtitles that were badly translated or contained errors, but this didn't detract all that much from the film - it was easily forgiven given the film's other merits. There are certain stereotypical phrases that are used to describe films. I try to steer clear of these, because they don't really help much most of the time. In this case, though, I'll make an exception, and say that it's the kind of film that'll blow you away.

pearly gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 1 Sep 2004

"The futility of revenge explained" - a review by timchuma

Ever since I saw Chan-wook Park's Joint Security Area (2000) at MIFF in 2001, I have tried to see as many Korean movies as possible at festivals and elsewhere as they were so exciting.

Although I didn't see his movie Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) at last year's MIFF, this one had a very good vibe about it and was personally recommended to me as one to look out for.

If you have heard about the movie, you would probably know it begins with a man Oh-Daesu who ends up locked in the one room for 15 years and then gets released trying to find the person who imprisoned him.

I will not go any further into the plot as it would be doing a tremendous disservice to this movie to try and explain it in some half-arsed way after I have just seen it. Do not let anyone who has seen this movie reveal too much of the plot for you (the clowns at work ruined the movie Memento (2000) for me like this.)

Despite what they said about the octopus scene, I didn't have a problem with it. I do admit to not being able to look during the home dentistry scene though: I don't like going to the dentist at the best of times.

Another stand-out sequence is the fight between Oh-Daesu and his jailers. Armed with only a hammer he takes on over twenty people with a knife in his back. When faced with another lift-full of attackers, you see the lift open in the car park and all of them fall out. I was so impressed with this scene that I later made my own replica ‘Oldboy’ hammer and considered getting it signed by the director while he was in town during the festival.

In a Q&A session at the 53rd Melbourne International Film Festival there were some great questions asked about the movie. James Hewison (festival director) stole some of my questions by asking about how he came about the ‘moral universe’ for the film and name-checking A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Park Chan-Wook replied that it had to do with Korean tradition where you are not meant to get back at people when they wrong you. Another theme examined in the movie was respecting your elders, which it also went against.

He also continued that to prepare the actor Min-sik Choi for the role of Oh Dae-su they worked together from the start of production (neither of them initially knew that they were working together, as the producer took care of it).

In pre-production for the movie they focussed on other areas such as getting the sets ready and left the acting until they needed to do it for real.

The first question from the audience was why he wanted to cover the theme of vengeance over three movies (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and the upcoming Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)).

Park Chan-Wook's response was that he wanted to show that vengeance breeds more vengeance and it never stops. Also he wanted to act as a release valve for his country as it is never discussed there.

A further comment he made was that the USA invaded Iraq as vengeance for 9/11, but do the American people really feel happy about it?

I had to change my question slightly as it was similar to what had already been asked. It was about how I thought the character of Oh Dae-Su had an intensity that was similar to other characters in Stanley Kubrick's movies and did he have any opinion on that director.

Park Chan-Wook said the late Mr Kubrick was one of his favourite directors and the most influential film of his was the movie Lolita (1962). For the actual depiction of violence he drew inspiration from Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Driller Killer (1979)).

He said he wanted to show the pain of violence and the effect it has on the victims and also question the morality of violence as a means of using it to solve problems.

I do want to see this movie again, even just to experience the performance of Oh-Daesu throughout the movie.

I will need to have a long rest before seeing it again — as well as being very physically violent, it is very emotionally violent and you will feel like you've been beaten about the head by the time it is over.

timchuma gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 24 Aug 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 9.50
Lowest rating: 9 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 10 (by timchuma)
Rating Percentage

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