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Or, "Stu's musings"... on film! Yes, I'm going to use this thread to post one of my full film reviews periodically, probably once a week at first, as I work through my significant backlog, and then just whenever I finish a new one after that. Be forewarned though, I use a certain amount of SPOILERS in just about everything I write, so be wary if you haven't seen the film I'm talking about, okay? At any rate, here's my review of Oldboy, so enjoy!:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you... weep, and you weep alone.

It's an incredibly sobering idea to consider, but the smallest careless word on our part can end up having enormous ramifications for other people, and in the right (or wrong) circumstances, what may seem to us like practically nothing can lead to a chain reaction of complications, one that ends ruining someone else's life, without us even being aware of it at all. But, if something like that really happened, then what? What if your accidental victim wasn't content to just let bygones be bygones, but instead, became determined to do everything in his power to irrevocably ruin your life the same way you did his, since doing so was the only reason he had left to live?

And what would you do if, in response, you had a choice, either to end this endless, Sisyphean cycle of vengeance, or to continue it to its logical conclusion, regardless of what dark places it will take you? Well, Park Chan-wook's contemplates this very scenario, and brings it to its ultimate, nightmare-ish conclusion in the scintillating, pitch-black revenge Thriller Oldboy, with what proved to be the director's international breakthrough, and what is arguably still the most iconic film to arise out of the incredibly fruitful field of cinematic creativity that is the Korean New Wave.

It tells the story of Oh Dae-su, a Korean businessman, who, after a night of drunken revelry on his daughter's fourth birthday, is kidnapped by a mysterious figure holding a violet umbrella, who abducts him to a dank, grimy hotel/prison, where he is held against his will, without any answer as to how long he will be kept there, or any explanation at all as to who is doing this to him (or why). Naturally, the combination of total isolation and the seemingly arbitrary, endless nature of his imprisonment causes Oh Dae-su to snap mentally, but his attempts to "escape" through the occasional suicide attempt are always thwarted by his captors, and when he learns on TV that his wife has been murdered, with physical evidence somehow implicating Oh Dae-su himself, he becomes determined to live, for nothing else but to find out who it is that has utterly destroyed his life, and to make them suffer for it even more than he has.

However, just as he's finally figured out a way to escape from his motel hell, Oh Dae-su is suddenly released from it just as randomly and mysteriously as he was first imprisoned 15 years prior, as part of a malicious scheme to somehow ruin his life even more than it already was (as impossible as that may seem), and, while Oh Dae-su finally seems to be as physically free, he eventually proves to be just as imprisoned as he was before, not by an actual prison, but by his insatiable lust for revenge.

And, while what I wrote there admittedly went on longer than my average descriptions of plot set-up, Oldboy really is a story that deserves the extra detail, as its twisted, twist-filled tale of vengeance is intricately, meticulously constructed by Park and his team of screenwriters, adapting the original Japanese manga and streamlining its 1,600+ pages down into a neat, 2 hour runtime, cutting superfluous sub-plots and altering certain key plot points, while still retaining the core of its intricate, richly-detailed mystery, resulting in a relentlessly propulsive story that is constantly unveiling tantalizing new revelations all the way to the unpredictable end.

Of course, all of these plot machinations would be impossible to be engaged with without characters we care about caught up in them, but Oldboy doesn't lack in that department one bit, with Oh Dae-su being brought to life by a blistering, force-of-nature performance by Choi Min-sik, as a boorish "salaryman" who is literally warped beyond all recognition by his years-long torture, often acting like more a rabid dog than a man at times, while Yoo Ji-tae makes for the perfect protagonist as "Lee", a wealthy businessman whose sadistic suaveness makes for the perfect foil to Oh Dae-su's frenzied, animalistic nature, but whose material possessions and malicious scheming ultimately can't heal the emotional scars he carries with him inside.

It's the lingering pain of these past traumas that causes him to carry out his almost ridiculously convoluted masterplan, staying ahead of his desperate, agonized victim at every single step, safe in his swank, luxurious penthouse, watching and sadistically toying with Oh Dae-su from on high like a Greek god of old, a connection that is furthered by the film's Oedipal overtones, whether it be through acts of self-mutilation, a certain plot twist that has become one of the most infamous in modern international film, or the way that Oh Dae-su, having been completely stripped of free will even when he takes his own initiatives, decides not to heed the repeated warnings from both his enemies and friends to turn back from his futile, self-destructive quest for vengeance, which results in some unspeakably disastrous consequences for him in the end.

Oldboy further impresses through its incredibly unique tone, which can be best described as being extremely dark, but also "playful" in its sense of sadism at the same time, if that makes sense, containing a pitch-black sense of humor that, at times, dares to make light of subjects such as torture, suicide, and attempted sexual assault, with a tone that I can respect turning some off of the film, due to it seeming to be in bad taste, but which I feel ends up working in the end, as it serves to immerse us in its one-of-a-kind reality, which is intended to be a heightened, distorted, funhouse mirror reflection of our own.

This is further reflected in the film's equally playful direction, as Park's style is utterly bursting at the seams with unique ideas, utilizing endlessly imaginative scene transitions, hallucinatory fantasy sequences, and elaborate, roaming cinematography (including the now legendary one-take hallway fight), all of which work to combine the gravitas of a Greek tragedy of ancient times with the jolts of a contemporary Thriller, and stylishly drive home the point that, like the man said, regardless of how small your sin may seem to you personally, "be it a rock or a grain of sand, in water they sink the same".

Favorite Moment:

Final Score: 8.5, or