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Oldboy

A 2003 South Korean revenge drama based on a manga and directed by Park Chan-wook.

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Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.

  • May 23, 2011
Rating:
+5
**** out of ****

Few films go as in-depth into the concept of revenge as Park Chan-Wook's "Oldboy" does. There are so many revenge films out there to the point where every one kind of feels run-of-the-mill, even for what it is; but this film just isn't like those movies. In fact, "Oldboy" is unlikely to feel like any cinematic experience you have ever had. It evokes emotions; both tender and cold-bloodedly dark, out of its audience, and by the end, it has drained us like a sponge.

So in ways, Wook has played his audience like an instrument. Only the best of filmmakers can do this, which makes it all the more surprising that "Oldboy" is as great as it is. Wook is not my favorite filmmaker, but here, he has made such a respectable work of art, that I kind of have to respect him regardless of his many flawed projects. The film lies smack-dab in the middle of Wook's "revenge trilogy", and proves that the middle child is often times the most interesting and different.

We first meet the protagonist, Oh Dae Suh, in a drunken rage; in the hands of the police, frequently thrashing around, and thinking only of getting out. We learn that it is his daughter's birthday, he has bought her a present, and that his loyal friend is soon going to get him out. And on that night, he stops by, and brings Oh Dae Suh with him. However, his friend turns his back on Oh Dae Suh for one moment, and when he turns to speak to him, our hero is nowhere to be found.

He has been kidnapped, which becomes the basis for most of the film. For fifteen years, Oh Dae Suh is imprisoned, gassed, fed, and kept alive by faces that he cannot see. However, Oh Dae Suh's tale of survival in this claustrophobic setting, a room with view (and a very small room too), is surprisingly powerful and human; perhaps more human than any true story, adapted to film, ever could be.

Oh Dae Suh is released when a hypnotist visits him one day and works her magic on him. He is suspected of murdering his wife, although due to his physical alteration over the years, he does not expect that anyone will notice him. He goes out and starts a new life in the city, beginning with his first meal; a live octopus (which was indeed harmed in the making of this film, mind you). It is during this meal, or more accurately, before it, that Oh Dae Suh meets Mi-Do; a kindly woman who takes him in after he faints in her restaurant.

Oh Dae Suh was given a cellphone and some money upon returning to the world outside his prison. He uses the cellphone to communicate with friends, and more importantly, the film's villain; his captor for those fifteen long years. The villain is cocky but cunning; allowing Oh Dae Suh to meet him in person, but still leaving the man with secrets to uncover and answers to find. When you have a villain such as that on your hands; that's good writing.
What happens beyond that point I shall not say. I do not wish to spoil this film, or the experience that it offers, because it is a good enough film for you to want to ponder watching it soon. Mind you, it is a violent and often times graphic film; not for the faint of heart, but not without purpose either. Meaning is given through symbolism, complexity, and emotional resonance that is neither sappy nor forceful. This film is as much of a drama as it is a story of revenge served cold. This I admire, although then again, it is but one of the many things I love about "Oldboy".

Choi Min-Sik is Oh Dae Suh. He owns the role, and he also tends to live it. His performance is compelling, powerful, and unforgettable. Such is "Oldboy". The film is well-acted and exceptionally well-directed by Mr. Wook, who knows his material and creates one of the best films I shall ever see. The film is not powerful because it is violent. It is powerful because it is, well, dramatic.

The ending leaves us to decide on our own where the story shall go from there. There is a twist at the end that, if you have not seen the film, will be hard to predict or spot. Prepare to stand- or sit- there in awe; "Oldboy" is an outstanding example of modern foreign filmmaking from Korea; a country that makes some really, damn good movies. "Oldboy" is one of their best offerings; as well as one of the best offerings, in cinema, from anywhere in the world, really. You should not miss it; you should not shun it; and you should know that, while the ride is bumpy, it's still worth enduring. If you can analyze and interpret the quote, "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone", then "Oldboy" is a movie that you may understand equally as well.

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May 24, 2011
one of my favorite Korean movies ever! Have you seen Choi Min-Sik's latest "I Saw The Devil"?
 
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More Oldboy reviews
Quick Tip by . November 26, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
Caption
Park Chan Wook's 2nd film in the Vengeance trilogy is one of the best films ever conceived, in Korea, and anywhere else in the world. Truly a gripping, riveting, contemporary classic that won numerous international film awards. This is a tale of revenge taken to the extreme, Park artfully blends repulsive elements into something truly poetic and beautiful with an ending that is so different and filled with visceral impact. Park is one of the best writer/directors of this age.  See …
Quick Tip by . June 04, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
Caption
When I look back on great psychological thrillers and great revenge stories there are a number of films that pop into mind... and this is now one of them.   Oldboy is a superbly complex revenge melodrama with a level of action, violence, humor, and eroticism that will get you thinking while your adrenaline is pumping. The film is a masterpiece that won't be forgotten because there isn't anything quite like it. If I had to compare it to another film or source material I'd say …
review by . May 16, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A movie driven by madness is the shortest and best way I can sum up this film as it seems to be a plot focusing around which man can be the most insane; the one seeking revenge against his captor or the one who has done the capturing. I will need to be careful as the way the film's structured, in order to really tell anything of the story, I may have to spoil a few important moments of the movie so you have been warned.       The story focuses around a man known as Dea-Su …
review by . December 21, 2008
posted in ASIANatomy
U.S. dvd
      OLDBOY is the 2nd installment of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy that is loosely based on the Japanese comic by Tsuchiya Garon and Minegishi Nobuaki. I use the term "loosely" because the plot, characters and almost everything else is completely re-worked for the big screen. I've read that Park saw his film; "Sympathy with Mr. Vengeance" a sort of commercial failure, so he comes back with an effective counter-attack. Oldboy made me re-think …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
You can bet that if and when they remake this in Hollywood, it won't have anything like the punch in the gut that this one delivers.
Quick Tip by . July 10, 2010
By far the most graceful, yet brutal, of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy, though Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a close second and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is still quite the respectable film. Seriously, I loved this enough to get a tattoo from it.
review by . October 20, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Lots have been said about this film. It is neither a classic nor a flop. After seeing this film last night I found it to be pretty good. There's no reason to bash this film because it does deserve to be rated moderately. When rating a film I ask myself what the film is giving the audience and what the message that the director is pushing across.     Like Sympathy...Oldboy is another film concerned with the theme of revenge but on a first glance, seems a little more straightforward …
review by . January 17, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
I popped Oldboy into my DVD player expecting to see a pretty decent movie but I got something way past that. First do not buy this film expecting to see a martial arts or action packed film because this is not packed it's just the right amount to keep you interested. There's more torture than fighting as you see Oh dae-su seek the ultimate revenge after being kidnapped and held for 15 years and then for some crazy reason he's let go.     By this time your probably thinking Oh …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #16
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Wiki

In the realm of revenge thrillers, you'd be hard pressed to find more ultra-violent vengeance and psycho thrills than in the creepy story ofOldboy. This Korean import made a pop splash at the Cannes Film Festival and during its limited theatrical run thanks to the imprimatur of Quentin Tarantino, who raved about it and its visionary director, Chan-wook Park, to anyone who would listen. It's easy to see why QT fell in love with the grindhouse attitude, fast-paced action, violent imagery, and icy-black humor, but it's a disservice to think ofOldboyas another Tarantino homage or knockoff. The darkly existential undercurrent in the themes thatOldboytraces over its life-long narrative arc is much more complex and deeply disturbing than anything of its kind. The movie's tagline is, "15 years of imprisonment... 5 days of vengeance." The imprisonee is Oh Dae-Su, an ordinary Joe who is snatched off a Seoul street corner and locked away in a dank, windowless fleabag hotel room for the aforementioned 15 years. Just as abruptly he is released, and thus the five days begin. Why did this happen to Oh Dae-Su? Ah, but that would be telling, and in fact we don't know ourselves until the final wrenching scenes.

Oldboy breaks into a classic three-act saga, the first of which details the hallucinatory period of imprisonment in which Oh Dae-Su wades from mild insanity to outright psychosis in the hands of unseen yet attentive captors. Act 2 is the revenge, when an ...

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Details

Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Action, Drama, Foreign, Thriller
Release Date: November 21, 2003
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: August 23, 2005
Runtime: 120 minutes
Studio: Tartan Video, Show East, Vivendi Entertainment
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