Written by Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Chan-wook Park
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Running Time: 2:00
for strong violence including scenes of torture,
sexuality and pervasive language.
Oldboy was a trip man. Definitely not the kind of movie you see made every day in the U.S. but definitely good.
A man, Dae-su Oh, is kidnapped outside a police station and for 15 years is held captive in what looks like a hotel room. He is never told why he is there, or how long he'll be held there. He has a bathroom, is fed three meals a day, has a television, but no contact with anyone other than the guy who brings him his food. Just as he is on the verge of escaping, he is released and let back into the free world. Revenge and hatred consume him as he needs to know who kept him captive and why. He meets a young girl and they quickly fall in love and she sets out to help him. He soon finds out who captured him, but not the why. The man gives Dae-su Oh five days to figure it out. If he doesn't, the girl dies. But if he does, the man will kill himself. Dae-su Oh finally figures out what's going on, but is left with an even bigger surprise at the end, one that will drive him to the brink of insanity.
I had my doubts about Oldboy when I popped it in the old DVD player. But it caught my attention very quickly because almost immediately this drunk guy is kidnapped and held captive without any explanation. Throughout the movie, we're in the exact same position as Dae-su Oh; we learn what he learns, when he learns it. Unlike some films that give the audience more information than the characters, we're kept in the dark the entire time. Little by little pieces of information are filtered through and you start to put it all together.
At one point early on, I had the movie figured out. I knew what the twist was going to be and I was prepared to be bored. But they tricked me! They threw in one small piece of information that made me say, oh, wait, I was wrong, I have no idea where this is going. But it was a red herring! So before the ultimate twist, I came back to my original thought and knew I was right, but for a majority of the movie, they had me questioning myself. The twist ending is one people will either love or hate. I can't imagine there's a lot of in between. In fact the whole plot is one that people will either love or hate. When Dae-su Oh finally figures out why all this was happening to him, it's a moment where a lot of people will say, oh, come on! While others, like I did, will say, damn! There are topics discussed in this movie that you almost never hear of in mainstream American films, at least in a serious way. Those taboo topics by themselves would have made this an interesting film, but the way it was shot and the ultra-cool stylized violence helped as well.
Generally I think when people hear Asian cinema, they think high flying martial arts sequences. But this movie stayed closer to the ground and just went with regular violence, usually with a hammer. Some of the scenes are rather brutal, and the director was nice enough to take us to the edge of showing some really nasty stuff, then cut away before it actually happened. There was a fight sequence in a hallway that was shot beautifully for such a narrow piece of land. The choreography for that scene alone must have taken ages to create. The look and feel of the movie was very dark, which fit in with the dark elements of the story. The way the movie is laid out was pretty strong as well. As I said, we go right along with Dae-su Oh from the time he is kidnapped, but there are also flashbacks to help fill in the background of the story.
The performances of all the actors were top notch, especially Min-sik Choi as the lead character. You could feel everything he was feeling, especially near the very end of the movie when all is revealed. His tough character completely falls apart and it breaks you up. It's like seeing John Wayne fall to his hands and knees, begging a bad guy for forgiveness. Again, it's not something you'd see in American films. The hero character almost never shows signs of weakness, and if he does, it's always a ploy. But Dae-su Oh does something to himself to prove it's not just a ploy to distract attention, and it's rather drastic. The rest of the cast, namely Ji-tae Yu as Woo-jin Lee, the bad guy in the film and Hye-jeong Kang as Mi-do, the girl Dae-su Oh falls for, held their own against Min-sik Choi, but it's Min-sik that rules the roost here. His performance is a large part of what makes the film as entertaining as it is.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I'd definitely recommend seeing Oldboy. It's not a perfect film, and the plot and twist ending could leave you annoyed, but if you allow yourself to get into the film, you'll find it's unlike any you've seen.
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