Monday, November 25, 2013

Opened November 21, 2003 (South Korea) May 15, 2004 (Cannes Film Festival)
2 hr
R | Drama
Oldboy a mystery thriller released in South Korea in 2003 by Director Park Chan-wook has many fans including Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson.  The two reunited on the remake of this popular Korean film which you can read my review here.  The original is available to view on Netflix is a thrill ride through the psyche of a man you loathe but eventually can't help but feel sorry for as revenge is delivered to him from his past.  

The man, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped for 15 years against his will without knowing who his captors are and the reason he is there.  And just as unexpectedly, released on a roof and led in a cat and mouse game with his mysterious tormentor.  Of course, while he's been imprisoned he's trained himself to fight watching videos of boxing matches and early MMA fights.  He surprises himself that his years of “shadow boxing” actually work in the real world, when he takes on some thugs in his first evening of freedom.  It's Park's ability to entertain through a perfect blend of humor and violence that will have you captivated most of the film.  The most famous scene in which Dae-su battles his way out of the prison after torturing his former Warden for information is a prime example of this.  As implausible as it may be, with one against say fifty, the impossible is accentuated quite comically by the fatigue of the fighters taking halfhearted swings at each other and throwing the weapons quite off their target.

While the humor is there, the Director is often quick to remind us how serious things are with a death or maiming of a character.  After all, this movie is not for kids, with incest, threats of rape, torture and murders the very reasons and instruments of the antagonist Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae).  As the story unfolds, we're given a flashback as to why Woo-jin is doing what he does.  And that the final confrontation between him and Dae-su provides quite an interesting twist that will have you disgusted.  Yoo Ji-tae is an interesting choice due to his youthful looks, as he should be approximately Dae-su's age.  But Ji-tae, as well as Min-sik provides great performances on their parts as does Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film though would have preferred a different happier ending.  But the Director not only does a great job at messing with Dae-su's mind, but with us viewers as well, raising our hopes before crushing it.  The Korean movie is actually loosely based on a Japanese manga of the same name written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya.  Spike Lee's version follows Park's version quite closely but with less of the humor.  One of the things that does stand out in both movies however is the visualizations used to illustrate the protagonist's will breaking down over his imprisonment and drugging.  I would recommend this film to those that are not squeamish.

Have you seen this film? What did you think of it?

Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5.0 Stars


  • Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su
  • Yoo Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin
  • Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do
  • Ji Dae-han as No Joo-hwan
  • Kim Byeong-ok as Mr. Han
  • Oh Tae-kyung as Dae-su (young)
  • Yoo Yeon-seok as Woo-jin (young)
  • Woo Il-han as Joo-hwan (young)
  • Yoon Jin-seo as Lee Soo-ah, Woo-jin's sister.
  • Oh Dal-su as Park Cheol-woong

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