Oh Dai-Su (Choi Min-sik) is your average white-collar South Korean who maybe parties drinks and swears just a little too much for the term "average" to quite apply. When he goes on one of his typical drinking binges on his daughterís birthday and has to be bailed out of the police station all cussiní and fightiní, he vanishes into thin air and (needless to say) misses the party. Instead he awakens in a small, locked apartment where he is kept prisoner for months, with only a television to keep him company. Horrifyingly, the months turn into years and denial becomes acceptance as the time crawls by. He watches the news and passes the time learning how the world is changing, learning that he has been framed for the murder of his wife, and that his daughter is being raised elsewhere. Although he has accepted imprisonment, his rage has never abated. Exercise and martial arts shows become his entertainment and he trains in his small cell, hoping to one day escape and kill his jailer. But this is none too easy when heís being frequently gassed into sleep and hypnotized.
If this psychological premise isnít enough, the day he is released (fifteen years after his initial incarceration) the mental torture kicks into high gear. Oh has five days to find his jailer, and he wonít rest until that person is dead. Choi is excellent in his depiction of a man whose only company for fifteen years has been television. He knows a lot of things in that detached, through-the-looking-glass kind of way, but has literally NO hands on experience with the world of the present (what he had, heís lost). When a transient is paid to give him a wallet full of cash and a modern cellular phone (modern to 2003, that is), heís given the means to begin the chase, but also the means by which he is to be tormented by his warden even outside of the box.
Itís when Oh meets up with a beautiful young chef named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong), with a hot body and cold hands that the quest kicks into high gear. As the pair get closer to each other, they get closer to the truth about this "Mr. Evergreen", who has a personal interest in both of them.
While I concede that some "surprises" in this movie could conceivably be considered "predictable", this is really because of the very multitude of surprises meted upon the audience. Director Park Chan-wook throws surprises around the film like Oscar Madison throwing Linguini against the wall, seeing what sticks. While almost all of it does stick, the viewer might be both confused and horrified by the jolts theyíre given.
If this seems as if itís used to excess, Oldboy is positively filled with all manner of excesses from the time the intriguing initial sub-plot gives way to a rampaging script, beyond all limits. While itís true that there is some nudity, sexuality and, you know, the "naughty bits", these are mere warm points in a cold, cold film. Even these relative points of romance are cast into a strange light by the escalating oddities of Oldboy. Surrounding these (and, in fact, tainting them to an extent) are scenes of spontaneous murder, multiple scenes of torture (physical and psychological), suicide, self mutilation, the consumption of live animals, the delivery of severed body parts in birthday boxes and enough blood to make the Children of the Damned look like the proverbial "red headed stepchildren".
Make no mistake, if youíre faint of heart or repulsed by such things, this isnít the movie for you. While most of us with a pulse would be repulsed by something in this movie, those of you who are willing to accept even the excessive as part of a well-done film would be well-served to sit through the rest and experience (if not "enjoy") Oldboy. In all truth, regardless of morality, taste, or whether the punishment actually fits the crime, Parkís film is superbly shot and brilliantly edited. Whatís more Parkís screenplay (with the veritable army of Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Chun-hyeong and Lim Joon-Hyung from the story by Tsuchiya Garon) is extremely well-written and keeps all its cards hidden until just the right point to play each one. Oh, you might not like where it goes (this one makes Kill Bill look like Rent), but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into Oldboy
Yes, itís disturbing , hard to watch and excessive, but itís also well-photographed adroitly directed and skillfully acted. This is an extremely violent movie, Iíve said it before, and Iím reaffirming it now. Donít watch it with your teenagers, and donít watch it if youíve got a weak stomach. Four Stars out of Five for Oldboy , the revenge tragedy that proves itís either good to be bad or bad to be goodÖ Iím not too sure which one! Brrrrrrr! Time for me to grab my cardigan. Iíve still got chills from Oldboy. Hopefully Iíll see you naked in the next reel. Until thenÖ Chill!
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