Directed by Chan-wook Park
Written by Garon Tsuchiya
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, and Hye-jeong Kang
After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days.
Here’s my take away from this master work of trauma and sickness: never eat a baby octopus alive. Never. Ever.
A film like Oldboy comes along about once every decade or so. I was planning on re-watching this for the sake of a review and when a friend mentioned some key sucker punches contained within, I knew it was time to self-medicate and fire up Netflix. This film comes with a caveat that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is quite literally one of the best horror-revenge movies ever, but it contains graphically traumatizing subject matter. I can’t even warn you correctly, because you need to see it coming at you head first. Feeling good about it? Let’s see if you feel the same way in two hours.
Oh Dae-su (Choi) drinks to excess on his young daughter’s birthday and finds himself in jail. His best friend No Joo-hwan, bails him out and in the blink of an eye, Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and held captive for 15 years in a mysterious room, never knowing who placed him there or why. When he hears the music, the Valium gas comes. Lying unconscious, all manner of psychological trauma occurs. Oh Dae-su is clearly being conditioned for something, but what? He begins the laborious process of escaping, patiently work the brick and mortar until he feels the fresh rain on his hand. There will be no more spoilers from here on out.
Oldboy is a visual dessert. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and director Chan-wook Park blends the epic violence and trauma, delivering it dressed up like a live-action graphic novel. Chung knows how to set up beautiful tracking shots, bizarre dissolves, and ultimately how to make this blood-soaked work of revenge and insanity into a very pretty piece of visual mastery.
Oh Dae-su is the real star here. We watch this man’s journey begin and end, wrapped in a shroud of subterfuge until the antagonist reveals his final chess move. I’m not going to tell you who’s pulled the strings for Oh Dae-su’s 15 years of imprisonment; the lion’s share of the work is on the viewer. I suffered through this and you’ll get no mercy or warnings here. Oldboy is the bar for insane horror-torture-revenge models now. It feels a bit like Kill Bill with the pacing of A Clockwork Orange. That’s a huge compliment to all involved.
We’ve all seen the violence that films like Saw produces and it does rightfully make us squirm. This makes Saw look like Twilight. The hook, the endgame, it’s darker than anything I’d seen in years. When Oh Dae-su fights his way out, he learns he has a mere five days to find the answers he seeks. This rapid-fire pacing leads him to the darkest alleyways of the city, where he uses his rock hard calloused knuckles in real life applications; something he hoped for as he trained his body for escape. His hypothetical training proves to be quite effective on the street and there are several large-scale brawls where our hero takes on a dozen men at once.
In the end, things are as dark as you thought, the climax fragments unexpectedly, setting more trauma and resolution before the credits roll. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone eat a live baby octopus, its clinging, desperate suction cups sticking to Oh Dae-sun’s face in a final act of self-preservation, then this is your film, kids. Enjoy the sickness.
You might be thrilled or terrified that Spike Lee has remade this film. His version is reportedly darker, something I can’t envision as being possible. It stars one of my man crushes, Josh Brolin, as the hammer-wielding revenge seeker.
The Spike Lee trailer