Oh Dae-soo (Min-sik Choi) is kidnapped outside his home and imprisoned in a cheap room by an unknown assailant, for reasons he doesn't know. On a news bulletin, he learns of the brutal murder of his wife - and that he's the suspect. As time passes, he tries suicide without success, and begins to write a diary of all the people he might have hurt in some way. It's a long list. He sets out to build up his body so he can take revenge. It's 15 years before he's set free, with a wallet of money and a mobile phone. As he sets out to find his jailer, he is made to play a bizarre life and death game in which he has to discover the reason for his imprisonment - a secret his own mind has suppressed all these years.
Review by Andrew L. Urban
Freaky, fruity and feverishly out there, Oldboy is specialist fare in the revenge action thriller genre with so much artistic wannabe that it almost spoofs itself - and convulses the plot. I don't think it warrants all the accolades it has earned, especially the Cannes Grand Jury plaque, but then Quentin Tarantino was jury president at the time; same year that Fahrenheit 911 was given the Palme d'Or. Nuff said. Perhaps it's Oldboy's menu of nasty violence, effectively lit and photographed, that won over the jury, aware of their president's penchant for same.
Amongst the film's quirky achievements are a laughable sex scene and the worst sequence of bad eating in recent times, like our hero chomping on a live squid, its tentacles twirling around his tattooed hands. The pretentious use of Vivaldi and the hammy moments in performance add to the film's undergraduate tone of bravado.
The story itself isn't very well told, but if it were, there might be some cause for applause amidst the melodramatic acting and the faux-creative direction, which includes stylistic borrowings from half a dozen sources, Tarantino included. But then Tarantino's work is also Asia-derivative, so we are going round in circles.
I find Oldboy alternately ugly (as in teeth removed with a hammer) or boring, which is a sin worse than any in filmmaking, reminding me of Takeshi Kitano's ouvre. This is achieved by the film's failure to engage us with any character. Vengeance, says director Chan-wook Park, is the most dramatic subject in the world. The problem with that view driving his filmmaking is that it seems to override his creative judgement, presenting us with cruelty as the vehicle for his cinematic jollies.
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(S Korea, 2003)
CAST: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yoo, Hye-jung Gang, Dal-su Oh
PRODUCER: Seung-yong Lim
DIRECTOR: Chan-wook Park
SCRIPT: Chan-wook Park, Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeon-hun Jeong
EDITOR: Sang-beom Kim
MUSIC: Yeong-wook Jo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Seong-hie Ryu
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 3, 2005