#5 – Oldboy (2003) – by Nick Andersen

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Oldboy is an R-rated 2003 South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook. It stars Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae and Kang Hye-jung. This is my first watching a Park Chan-wook film. I had added this one to my list a while ago because of the 8.4/10 score it has on IMDB. From the sypnosis, I had somewhat an idea of what I was about to watch: A man is released after being imprisoned for 15 years by an unknown captor. This is his story of revenge…

!!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!

I’m a big fan of revenge movies. They feel good when the justice is being dealt. Take a good guy, break him by hurting him and if he’s lucky enough to get his revenge, sit back and enjoy! So that was my mindset ready for this movie. But this isn’t your typical revenge movie.

We start off by seeing our main guy, Oh Dae-su in a police station drunk and behaving disrespectfully. Upon his release by his friend, No Joo-hwan, Oh Dae-su goes to a payphone and calls his little daughter telling her he’s coming home with her birthday present. While No Joo-hwan congratulates her, Oh Dae-su mysteriously disappears outside the payphone. Without an explanation, Oh Dae-su spends the next 15 years locked inside what looks like a fake hotel room.

Seeing him go through the range of emotions was slightly uncomfortable. I could imagine myself in the same situation and it unsettled me. The not knowing why and for how long was the worst part. Then the routinely gassing so he would sleep and the same food delivery through the lower hatch of the door. What an amazing feat to not completely lose your mind from that experience. This isn’t like prison. In prison you get daily outside breaks and some activities to keep your mind busy. This looked like 15 years of isolation, except with a TV inside. The more I think about it, the better Choi Min-sik’s performance rises. From denial to acceptance, he did an excellent job. He had started to make an escape plan by puncturing the wall with a chopstick over the years and that got me excited for his unfair treatment. I think we were all surprised when he was released on to a roof wearing a suit, with money in his pockets and a cellphone. From this we see that Oh Dae-su’s unknown captor has started playing a game with him. In some way he and his captor have a connection because it was something that Oh Dae-su did that made his captor imprison him for so long.

There is so much you could get into, to explanations and interpretations of this film, so I will keep this as a movie review. The movie is a smart and cruel one. If you’re like me, and were expecting all the revenge, then you know how I feel when this movie had so many twists and really, in the end Oh Dae-su didn’t get his revenge. While many agree that this is a brilliant film, even a masterpiece by some, I still feel unfulfilled. I wanted so bad for the bad guy to end terribly and not kill himself with a bullet! But then again maybe this film isn’t about revenge but about how much someone’s heart and life can be stripped.

There were many moments were Oh Dae-su could have had his revenge but because of curiosity, let Lee Woo-jin explain a bit more of this twisted situation. So many times I thought, “What the hell is going on?” It was like watching the South Korean version of a Game of Thrones episode.

That scene in the penthouse near the end where everything is explained and we find out that Mi-do is Oh Dae-su’s daughter… WTF?! How did this revenge movie get to this point? And to him begging like a dog and cutting off his tongue as atonement. I guess I just wasn’t ready for that. This all has a deeper meaning hence the great praises it has received. I will have to watch it a second time to understand it on a deeper level, but from seeing it for the first time, I have mixed feelings.

One scene that had me shocked was when Oh Dae-su eats a live octopus. Yep, it’s at that level we are dealing with of a film. I read that it took four octopuses to be eaten alive for that scene.

The ending is an interesting one. Oh Dae-su has the same hypnotist hypnotize him again to forget his disturbed truth and memories to be with his daughter yet when he hugs his daughter Mi-do, he both laughs and weeps simultaneously just like the man on the poster he had in his fake hotel room, with the words, “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

Thanks for reading my review!

– Nick Andersen

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