Directed by Park Chan-wook
Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong
I’m not going to draw any comparisons from the original and perfectly sufficient Oldboy, which we’re here to appraise, to the 2013 remake for three reasons: first, I simply haven’t seen the remake, second, I already know that it’s bad, and third, comparing it to the original doesn’t do the latter any justice and would only detract from its’ supreme greatness.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a movie as shocking as Oldboy for the first time. I remember being completely transfixed to the screen as each intricate and jaw-dropping detail unfolded before me, blowing my mind with it’s visual splendor and operatic storytelling. It’s a master-piece – a thing of both beauty and horror.
Your modern day Count of Monte Cristo, Oldboy is a tragedy of vengeance most elaborate and cruel. We first meet Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a drunken oaf who can’t keep his mouth shut, in police custody for what is obviously public disorder. It’s the night of his daughter’s birthday when Oh Dae-su is bailed out, but then inexplicably taken from the street and imprisoned over the course of the next fifteen years. Locked away in a secluded apartment with nothing but a television to inform him of the outside world, we bear witness to the struggles of Dae-su’s confinement – learning of his wife’s murder, that he is framed for the crime, his attempts at committing suicide, training to fight, eating the same meal every day, attempting escape – the years roll by and throughout its’ entirety, the identity of his captor remains a mystery. Who did this to him? Why is he there? Why, after 15 years, is he suddenly released? Following his release, like a puppet on strings, Dae-su is led on a path to identify his captor and unravel the mystery behind his imprisonment.
Director Park Chan-wook, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and composer Jo Yeong-wook together orchestrated a moving work of art, enhancing it’s dark and elegant aesthetic with a powerful and stirring, Glass-esque score. It’s as though as the story progresses and our characters delve deeper into the dark, twisted plot of our antagonist, the scenes and the cinematography that guides them becomes more graceful, flowing like a dance all the way to the bloody and disturbing crescendo. For those of you who are familiar with this story will know why it is paramount to keep the details of the magnificent and horrifying finale hidden from those who have yet, and most certainly should see it.
Just as hard as it is to look away, the film also has plenty of moments where you can’t help but do so. It is disturbingly violent at times, unflinching, and not in so much of a graphic way (though it is still incredibly graphic), but in that it’ll take you all the way to that point where your imagination will fill in the rest. The scene with the extraction of teeth with a hammer makes me squirm every time, and that’s not the worst of it. As repulsive as it becomes, there are just as many badass (there’s no better word for it) moments that drive this vengeful thrill ride. The now iconic hallway fight scene is always a pleasure to behold, it’ll likely remain one of the most perfectly executed tracking shots on film… in my opinion anyway.
Oldboy is an unforgettable piece of cinema with an unshakable finale, one that’ll sit with you for days after seeing it. Just like every great movie you’ll see in the Movie Bucket, it offers some truly splendid cinematography under artistic direction, an impactful score, a phenomenal cast led by Min-sik and his nemesis, Yoo Ji-Tae, whose tragic villain, Woo Jin-Lee is unparalleled in his depravity and sinister ambition. It’s masterclass stuff, one that every movie lover should experience at least once.