“Laugh & the world laughs with you, weep & you weep alone”
In the world of cinema there are good directors, great directors, outstanding directors & above all of these is Park Chan-woo. The man’s body of work is unparalleled. Even the best of directors have their off days. Cronenberg, Lynch, Burton, Miike etc all have films in their back catalogue that are not up to their usual high standards. This is not the case with Park Chan-woo. I have never seen a bad Park Chan-woo movie. From the visually stunning Thirst to the wonderfully uplifting I’m A Cyborg, Park’s movies are beyond reproach. His greatest claim to fame & undoubted career high is his Vengeance Trilogy. Three unrelated stories sharing the same central theme of vengeance. Oldboy is the second film of the trilogy, preceded by Sympathy For Mr Vengeance & followed by Lady Vengeance. Oldboy is probably the best of the three (only just, Lady Vengeance is almost as good)
Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-su, who is returning home for his daughter’s birthday after a drunken night out. After calling his daughter from a phone box Oh Dae-su is kidnapped. He is kept a prisoner in a small room. He learns from the TV that his wife has been murdered, his daughter has been sent to live with foster parents & he is the police’s prime suspect. Oh Dae-su attempts suicide several times but is thwarted by being rendered unconscious by gas. As time passes Oh Dae-su begins to shadowbox & hardens his knuckles by punching the wall. Then after 15yrs in captivity Oh Dae-su wakes to find himself free, dressed in a new suit on a rooftop. After a darkly comic meeting with a suicidal man Oh Dae-su is given a mobile phone by a stranger outside a restaurant. Oh Dae-su meets Mi-do the young sushi chef in the restaurant, who takes Oh Dae-su home & listens to his story. As Oh Dea-su searches for who was responsible for his captivity he learns it is not so much a matter of who is responsible, the question why becomes more important as Mi-do’s life is threatened.
Oldboy is a work of genius. In fact stop reading this & go watch it. If you haven’t seen it before prepare for something wonderful. If you have, just watch it again & remember just how good a movie it really is. As is very much in evidence from my reviews here, i’m not a first class writer, nor a highbrow intellectual that can dissect a movie & scrutinise it to the nth degree. What I am is a fan of world cinema horror & I genuinely get excited by the thought of promoting (in my own small way) these films. I want people to see these movies & enjoy them like I do. To raise the profile of these classics that remain hidden from so many film fans. Oldboy is one of those films, one that I believe everyone should see. It really is THAT good. From the movie’s opening to the end credits, Oldboy grips you & refuses to let go. Some of the movies set pieces are startling. The corridor hammer fight is exceptional. The ending is a real jaw dropper & will have you staring at the screen in total shock. That last statement carries no hyperbole or exaggeration. I would put Oldboy’s ending alongside Se7en, The Thing, A Tale Of Two Sisters, Haute Tension & Martyrs as one of the truly great film endings. The acting is first-rate Yu Ji-tae & Kang Hye-jeong are superb in their respective roles but it is Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su that dominates this movie. Choi Min-sik (a regular in Park Chan-woo’s movies) gives the performance of a lifetime. He captures every emotional nuance of the character. He makes the character so flawed, yet so human that you care about Oh Dae-su. His portrayal of a man looking for retribution & hoping to find redemption at the same time is gripping. Oldboy is a movie with a dark heart & does contain explicit violence, disturbing content & a scene involving Choi Min-sik eating a live octopus. Anyone with a sensitive disposition may find Oldboy too strong for them.
A movie without flaws, Oldboy is as close to movie perfection as it is possible to get. A film so good it is on a par Martyrs & Betty Blue at the very pinnacle of movie making. If you haven’t seen it, what the hell are you waiting for? If you have then I dare say that like myself, you own, love & cherish this film. A classic.