Vengeance dominates the modern action cinema, but to be a work of art, a revenge film needs to give you something more than your sadistic jollies. It needs to show the cost of revenge to the revenger, to innocent bystanders, and to society. The important vengeance sagas always portray revenge as both natural and destructive.
Full of insanely grand passions, bloodthirsty violence, and black comedy, the sadistic masterpiece Oldboy, is one of those revenge fantasy tale, that might mess with your head. You might consider Oldboy as a revenge picture, or tale of twisted romance, or a mystery. Regardless of how you look at Oldboy, it's unlike anything you are likely to have seen before.
'Oldboy' also marked the official arrival of director Park Chan-wook as an internationally important filmmaker. His previous works, such as “JSA” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” were hits in his country, but the success of “Oldboy” - both with audiences (it won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival) and as a film - lifted Park to a whole other level. This is a breakthrough work on the level of “Pulp Fiction.”
PlotDaesu(Min-sik Choi) is a loser. He misses his daughter's birthday and cheats on his wife. He goes out to a bar -- gets drunk, gets loud, cops pick him up. A friend bails him out. They stagger home, but stop at a phone booth. And Daesu disappears. For fifteen years.
He is in what looks like a windowless hotel room. He's fed. He can watch TV, all the cable he can stand. He learns he's wanted for his wife's murder. He's occasionally given knock-out gas and shaved. And this goes on for 15 years. One day, without warning, Dae-su is released.
Dae-su spends the rest of the film trying to find out why he was imprisoned and by whom, leaving a trail of bloodied criminals in his path. But the closer he gets to an answer, the more he seems to be playing into the hands of the mysterious figure or figures he seeks. Along the way he befriends Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), a friendly waitress who seems to be hiding something as well.
It would spoil the movie, to say anything more about the story.
AnalysisWhether chomping down on a live octopus (in one of several scenes that require a strong stomach) or fighting with half-crazed rage and impotence, Choi gives a bravura performance that powers the picture. To say Choi gets it just right would be an understatement - these are the kinds of rare performances that come out of nowhere and knock you out. Balancing out Choi is Yu Ji-tae, who plays the enigmatic villain. The best movie villains are the ones that are calm, cool, collected, and Yu fits the role. His performance as a eerily detached persona is perfect.
Park Chan-wook is an impressive stylist, who keeps Oldboy charged beyond the intrigue of its story. This is the second film in director Park Chan-wook's 'Revenge Trilogy,' begun with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which also deals with the concept of getting even in unconventional terms. Park elevates the movie far above your average revenge flick. Watch out for the movie’s key sequence: a long tracking shot in which the camera, watching from the side, slowly follows Oh Dae-su up and down a seemingly endless corridor as he takes on what seems like hundreds of enemies.
Not surprisingly, Oldboy is sometimes stomach-churning in its violence. Of course, when the gore involves teeth being ripped out with a hammer claw it doesn't take much more than suggestion to have an impact. But there's plenty else to shock even without the gore - and all done with such vitality that you'll be as compelled as you are repulsed.
"You seek revenge, or do you find the truth?" it conveys, and like any good movie, and it effortlessly opens wide with questions about punishment, justice, fate, ethics. Far from being a sadistic celebration of vengeance, the film consistently undermines the ultimate senselessness of it all. It says the only thing worse than not getting revenge is … getting revenge.
Oldboy is mesmerizing and disturbing, engaging the viewer on a visceral and an intellectual level.
Rated R for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language