This is South Korean’s modern answer to an Elizabethan revenge tragedy. Full of insanely grand passions, bloodthirsty violence and dark comedy, it’s a sadistic masterpiece from the director of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
The film won the Grand Jury prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival with high praise from none other than Quentin Tarantino (the Pulp Fiction director was heading the jury). Oldboy can be described as a psychological thriller, utilizing many elements of film noir to examine the nature of sin and morality.
Korea actor Choi Min-sik stars as Dae-su, a skirt-chasing businessman with a wife and daughter. During a night out drinking, the police arrests Dae-su for being drunk and disorderly. His close friend, Joo-Hwan, bails him out. While Joo-Hwan is in a phone booth talking to Dae-su’s daughter (who is celebrating her birthday), an anonymous person kidnaps Dae-sa.
For the next 15 years, Dae-su is locked up in shabby little hotel room. He is kept in this ‘private prison’ without any contact from the outside world with only a TV set to keep him company. Over time, Dae-su manages to fill in several notebooks as a way of keeping himself sane but is puzzled by the reason why a person would imprison him like this. Dae-su also forced himself to train by shadow boxing, punching at the walls of his prison until thick calluses form on his knuckles.
During this period, he learns via the television set that he is accused of his wife’s murder and that his young daughter has been sent away to a foster family. Just as abruptly as he was captured, Dae-su is set free and vows to get his revenge.
Embarking on his quest to discover the person responsible for his imprisonment, Dae-su teams up with female sushi chef Mi-Do (Kang Hye-jung) – by impressing her in his ability to eat a live, wiggling octopus in one single go!
Later on, a man named Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae) contacts Dae-su and claims to be the one who imprisoned him. He offers to play a game with Dae-su: Find out why all this has happened to him in the next five days or else Mi-Do dies. If Dae-su wins, then Woo-jin will kill himself.
Eventually Dae-su meets Woo-jin face-to-face, but this ends with a shocking and a bizarre twist of fate for the lead character.
Oldboy is a stylish but violent film from the creative genius of Chan-Wook Park. His vision in this revenge movie features many iconic scenes of blood and gore, in particular the perfectly-choreographed corridor fight sequence where Dae-su single-handedly takes on 20-odd guys that visually looks like a side-scrolling beat ‘em up video game.
Oldboy may not appeal to everyone’s taste, but it can be regarded as the best Korean film to date, with a fascinating story and beautiful cinematography. An Asian movie not to be missed!