Director: Park Chan Wook
Country: South Korea
Blood, slashing, violence, torture, dismembration, sex, revenge. All these in one single movie, and that movie is Park Chan Wook's 2003 hit Oldboy. Rarely you'll find a movie more disturbing and violent than this, but yet it is worth every second you have to bear through it. Behind all the blood and violence there is an excellent, psycholgical and even artistic movie that it is worth watching.
The film tells the story of Oh Daesu (Choi Min Sik) a normal man who's life changed forever on a single night when he was imprisoned in a locked up room. For the next 15 years he was locked inside the place, suffering from hallucinations and slowly descending into dementia. He then is released after the 15 years has passed and finds himself in a South Korea unknown to him, but that won't stop him on his quest of answers and revenge. Even if he isn't locked in that room, he is still trapped in a web of never ending corruption and violence. And, unexpectedly, in the middle of his quest, he falls in love with a sushi chef who helps him reach his goal.
I feel a little shaken and disturbed after watching this film - and I'm not shaken or disturbed easily. This film is so violent that it coul easily have received an NC 17 rating from the MPAA, but its not its violence that makes it disturbing, or not completely. The couple of twists we get are actually what can disturb the most, and trust me, they are very disturbing. I am not going to give it away, but it is very very disturbing.
I'll try to stop using the word "disturbing" from now on unless it is absolutely necessary (but I'm afraid it will be hence this film). So the film is great for many different aspects.
The direction is probably what makes the film for me. Park Chan Wook is a very talented director, and though this might be the only film coming from him that I've seen, he is probably one of the best Asian directors of recent years. He did Thirst, a succesful horror/drama about vampires that, long with Let the Right One In, put Twilight to shame. And he's done two other films, in which the theme of revenge is predominant, that have been succesful too. And Oldboy, which many people call his masterpiece, is very richly directed. How he shoots the film, making simple shots be more traumatic than they should and focusing on each frame for the time they need, not revealing anything until the time arrives, and maintaining the tension throughout are some of the few great things Chan Wook can do. After watching this I am more interested in watching the rest of his work.
The performances are pretty good, especially coming from central protagonist Choi Min sik. He embodies his character in every scene. When he needs to be a calmed and expressionless fellow he is, and when he needs to be an out of control psycho he is, and when he needs to be a scarred monster he is. He can be all of the faces of his character and he shows it in every scene. Yu Ji tae, who plays the central villain, also plays a powerful role with his full of hate and anger character. He takes the scenes in which his character is at and he takes them to a far different level, but still without stealing the show from Min sik.
The writing of this film is also pretty strong. The idea and concept of this film is very original and innovative and nothing like we have seen already. The only film that I think approaches the film more in similarity is Kill Bill (and not only for its revenge theme) and yet it is far to be like Oldboy. The characters are well designed, they have their story and they get enough screen time to develop, they grow into the audience making them love or hate them. The dialogues are smart and well written, but nothing really memorable.
As I've said before, this film is wildly and unsettlingly disturbing (yes, I said it, but I had to this time). And this might be the only problem (though actually really small) problem I had with this film. I'm not saying I didn't like it because of its crudeness, but I am saying that its highly traumatic content can become a turn off. There are a few scenes that can make the viewer stay all night, like the octupuss scene in the restaurant or the tongue scene towards the end, or maybe the ants scene. But the twists are the ones that can surely scar you for life. There are only about two or three, but they are pretty unsettling especially the big one (you know which one I'm talking about if you've seen it). That had me shaking.
So Oldboy is an unsettling piece, a wild and disturbing piece, but it is also an ingenius and innovative piece. And while its violence and other disturbing issues can be too much for some viewers, it is definitely a must see for the ones who can take it.
My recommendation: High, but only for the ones who can stand torture, violence (included some sexual violence), disturbing themes and some really f***ed up scenarios.
My score: 97%