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

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A Gripping Modern tragedy and a Contemporary Classic!

  • Dec 21, 2008

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 the old adage: revenge is best served cold, because this film emits SCORCHING FIRE.

Oh Daesu (Choi Min-Sik) is a man with a wife and child. He is kidnapped and kept in captivity in a small room, fed with dumplings mostly as his main dish, with only a television to keep him company for 15 years. Someone paid an obscene amount of money to incarcerate him indefinitely. Mentally tortured and overcome with a desire for revenge, he plots for escape. One day, he is set free and dumped in the streets, with a suit to wear and left with some money. Daesu meets and hooks up with a young sushi chef; Mido (Hye-Jeong Kang) to look for the man responsible for his incarceration.

Warning: Photos May Have Minor Spoilers

"Oldboy" has a lot of visual wallop and visceral punch. Park's stylish direction and the VERY intriguing premise are truly awesome. There are quite a few films that really stayed with me; this film is one of them. I can still clearly remember the great soundtrack, the visually original hallway fight, the tooth-pulling, the live octopus devouring and others. The ingenious style of its direction and the balanced intensity of its execution keep the proceedings grounded. The plot is a bit over-the-top but to the director's credit, it remains balanced and believable.

This film may be considered an ultra-violent dark film by most people but it is actually very tame when it comes to blood and gore. The proceedings are so well executed that the atmosphere emulates violence and darkness. The very set up and sequences of what happens in each shot creates a lot of tension that people will remember it as a very dark and violent film, that it is in fact gorier and bloodier than it actually is. Park has the hand of an artist and is a true visionary to be able to pull off this sensory manipulation. "Oldboy" has a lot of uncompromising twists and turns. You will have to keep in mind that Park's films are usually a character study of its main characters.

Aside from Park's stellar direction and premise, the film draws its strength from its excellent cast. Choi Min-Sik gives a near-stellar performance as the main character. I remember his haircut that looks almost like a mangled lion with a chopped black mane. His portrayal of a BROKEN everyday man is one of the reasons why "Oldboy" has been elevated to "cult status". The film's final image; Choi's joyful but at the same time, infinitely sorrowful SMILE will forever be remembered by its audiences. Ji-Tae Yu plays the villain; Woo-Jin, suave and handsome; with his Bond-like physical attributes and a very elegant charisma. Despite his good looks, Ji-Tae Yu has a very menacing presence and does command attention like a deity, with a "mere" mortal as his plaything.

One VERY minor (so minor) fault the film may have is that the method of which the actual revenge is executed. The hint of hypnotism may require a tiny suspension of disbelief. Everything plays out so well for the antagonist; we are all expected to believe that he is a genius, with an intellect dedicated to the torture and punishment of one man. He has dedicated 2 decades of his life to his vengeance which may be one of the coldest, if not, certainly the most perverse. However, this very minor flaw is forgivable, because the film is so focused and succeeds in immersing us in its sequences that all we consider are the things that it has done PERFECT.

Oldboy explores a moral issue about vengeance; what happens next after you do exact your revenge? If revenge becomes a main focus of your life, what else is there to live for? With Daesu and Lee Woo-Jin, the answer is very different.

OLDBOY is PURE contrasting cinematic genius; it is repulsively ugly but at the same time, it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is gut-wrenching but at the same time it is very delicate. It is cold but indeed emotional. It is mind-bending at times and certainly artistic in its execution. With its flair and style, it is a bunch of contradictions that adheres to coherency.
Park will not only entertain but make you uncomfortable. It does no other film has done: to entertain at the same time analyzes pure emotional pain. It is TERRIFIC!

Highest Possible Recommendation! [ 5 Out of 5 Stars]
This Review was originally posted in Amazon.com

Recent News: Hollywood will be re-making this film with the director of "Better Luck Tomorrow" at the helm. I was watching MTV when I heard this news; Good or bad? Let's wait and see...

Update: Spike Lee is now the director for the American remake (sigh)

U.S. dvd promo poster scene Oldboy European movie poster

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May 13, 2011
Yes Sir this is another great flick
November 22, 2009
Not sure what to think about a remake...this film was done right the first time. Hollywood may very well ruin it. By the way, how do you get video links to play in your review? Do you simply cut and paste the "embed" HTML from Youtube?
November 22, 2009
It's easy. Copy the 'embed link" on the right side of the youtube page, then open the window with the 'film icon' (embed media) and paste the link you copied from youtube. Click submit and you're done! As for the remake, Will Smith and Spielberg are now involved...
August 22, 2009
Nice write up. I've had this on my queue for a while now from a co worker's recommendation. Maybe I should move it to the top and see whats the big fuss is about. I do love revenge stories =)
August 22, 2009
Foboftheyear, I cannot say anything more about the film; except that YOU have GOT to SEE IT! see Sympathy for Mr. vengeance and Lady vengeance also...
February 01, 2009
You're kidding me Woop! This is being remade? And by Justin Lin? I don't know if that's good or bad news. I loved BETTER LUCK TOMORROW and I loved OLDBOY, but I'm not sure he has the sensibilities for a film like this. As far as I know the only he film he has under his belt is TOKYO DRIFT. I'm so opposed to American remakes to begin with. Rats! I was hoping he'd get hold of some decent material with a good budget--and what happens? Well, back to the matter at hand. As awful as everything in this movie is, its still the squid (or was it octopus) eating scene that got me most. You can tell yourself the rest is only a movie, but that poor little invertebrate was really being eaten alive.
July 04, 2009
Karen, there's a rumor now circulating that Will Smith and Spielberg will be remaking this movie...OUCH!!
July 04, 2009
You're doing this just to annoy me right? Well I'm not going to take the bait.
July 04, 2009
nope, Trashie even knows this rumor... aarrgghhh!!!
July 04, 2009
As long as its still in the rumor category...
January 21, 2009
thanks, Lingma--I couldn't have done it without Rache's help. This film is brilliant, not really that repulsive when it came to its sequences but its very premise is so....well, it really gets under your skin.
January 20, 2009
I love how you included the video clip in your review. And your review is right-on about how irresistable and yet repulsive the visuals are. Very fresh, visceral, and gross!
More Oldboy reviews
review by . May 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** 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 …
Quick Tip by . November 26, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
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
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 …
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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About this movie


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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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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