This is a revenge flick. But it isn’t your typical revenge flick. If you think you’ll know how the plot will turn out and how the characters will eventually fare, you’re basically wrong in every aspect as I was. “Oldboy” is and should be the demonstration of how to take such a tired genre and twist it and turn it until you have this freaky amalgam of this insane film. Garnering rave reviews at film festivals and attention from master Quentin Tarantino, “Oldboy” is that type of movie where you’ll ask yourself, “Are you sure this isn’t Tarantino?” because this has the look and feel of films like “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction” but it’s a lot more twisted. If that’s possible.
So good it was covered in “Fangoria” (which drew my attention towards it), “Oldboy” is a twisted tale about a man named Oh Daesu whose kidnapped one night in a drunken stupor and awakes in a room. After two months he basically is going mad; being fed with fried dumplings every day, four walls, and with only a television to keep himself company, he keeps in touch with the outside world with the television which is basically his only window. Every night, he’s promptly gassed, and men enter his room to clean up and perform whatever tasks they need to (groom him, fix his wounds). Years go by as Oh Daesu becomes more and more insane and discovers his wife has been killed and he’s to blame, despite being MIA for years. Fifteen years pass by where he hallucinates, learns from television, and teaches himself hand to hand combat by boxing with a wall, and one day suddenly awakes on a rooftop met by a suicidal man.
He embraces his newfound freedom by coming back in to touch with all the outside elements he missed; the fresh air is like a drug, the man dying is orgasmic, and a drag from a cigarette is like heaven, but now for his mission: he has to find out who kidnapped him in the first place to kill them, but that won’t be so easy, as the person seems to be one step ahead of him and encourages that he find out why he was kidnapped, or else *he’ll* kill himself and Daesu will never find out what happened. What emerges is a frenzied and incredibly deranged tale of murder, torture, and incest which director Chan Wook Park takes with stride. There are some incredible visuals presented during the story by Park including ants crawling through skin, and Daesu’s sanity slowly diminishing before our eyes, all incredible imagery that the audience witnesses with maddening pace and a truly excellent performance from Min-Sik Choi who manages to supply an insane performance of the anti-hero Daesu.
Choi is great is conveying not only his raw emotions stemming from the characters slowly diminishing psychology, but from his need for vengeance. We are able to feel Daesu’s mind breaking down through Choi’s great acting, and the way he portrays the character is a treat. The character Daesu is a very resourceful man whose tool of choice is a claw hammer which he uses for many things during the film. When he’s taken hostage we manage to see his resourcefulness put to use when he solidifies his bones more by practicing hand to hand combat with a brick wall which helps him in the future. He’s trying to achieve vengeance for his senseless crime, but can he keep his sanity and humanity in tact which was basically lost when he was imprisoned for so many years?
Can a man whose soul was slowly diminished keep his sense of pity and remorse in line while not becoming a monster? These scenes are emphasized with a great deal by Park because they’re essential to the character of Daesu whom we get to know inside and out. If you found yourself confused during the film, you’re not alone, but that’s what’s basically intended. The story along with the great direction from Park creates a very chaotic and confused state of mind for the audience to engage in, and I was hooked from the very beginning. Park’s direction borders sometimes from great to just incredible with some involving sequences that will stick in your mind for a long while. There are many themes in the story dealing with incest and murder while the story gives us some very disturbing images like Daesu eating live squid, ants crawling into his skin, and the famous claw hammer sequence which involve teeth (I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks).
There is an excellent sequences where the director performs one scene all in one long dolly take where Oh Daesu takes on a large group of men in a hallway with a claw hammer. I won’t ruin what happens during that sequence, but I guarantee you’ll love it. Park has a knack for capturing incredible surrealistic visuals that are just riveting and he manages to synthesize the utter lunacy of the story with his skills. For the skeptics, you’ll learn this is not your usual revenge story, and though the story is intricate and a bit complicated, it will all come crashing down in the shocking climax, and I was pleased with this work of art, and you will be too. In the mood for an offbeat story with great action, an intricate story, excellent acting and a whopper of a surprise ending? Check this out and you won’t be sorry. This is one of the best imports I’ve seen in a while.