Published Apr 01, 2005Already slated for a Hollywood remake, Oldboy is an elating Korean revenge thriller that takes only minutes to create one of the most psychologically damaging experiences imaginable.
Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) is a disorderly businessman who is arrested for public drunkenness on his young daughter's birthday. Once bailed out, he is quickly abducted and held captive in a hotel room for 15 years without any knowledge of his whereabouts, his captor or why he's being incarcerated. Every day he is drugged, bathed and clothed unconsciously, while the conscious moments are devoted to training himself to fight, keeping a journal and learning from television (a montage of historical events such as the Berlin Wall crumbling, Princess Diana's death and the World Cup in South Korea are shown to represent his imprisonment's length).
Upon his unexplained release back into society, Dae-su begins his mission to determine who wronged him and why. Along the way he meets a young woman at a sushi bar (where he eats a raw squid in true stomach-turning fashion) whom is willing to help him find the truth, but ends up being merely a pawn in a sadistic game designed by Dae-su's kidnapper. In the end, when all is revealed, there is no sweet taste for Dae-su in the free world, instead his 15 years of imprisonment is presented as somewhat of a paradise in comparison.
Park's film is emotionally disturbing and draining on a number of levels. His idea of both love and revenge is sinister, unforgivable and a lot of the time uncomfortable for the viewer to endure. However, even though the nature of the film is vicious and heartless, it's hard not to worship his no holds barred attitude in bringing such an inspiringly twisted story to the screen. The restraint to keep this from becoming a full-blown action-revenge film is truly admirable, presenting a riveting one-shot fight sequence where Dae-su goes through 30 men with simply a hammer and the will to survive. Oldboy is easily the year's most captivating and unsettling film. (Alliance Atlantis)