An unmatched, disconcertingly poetic, and visually brutal tale of vengeance that never ceases challenging its viewer. Chan-Wook Park’s “Oldboy” manages to find new ways to discombobulate and disturb while remaining mesmerizingly visceral and unbelievably disheartening. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more taut character study that is truly unbound, cruel, and stretches to the furthest reaches of comprehensiveness. Although it may blur like a dream-sequence, mar any sense of humanity, and plaster your thoughts with violence long after it ends. “Oldboy” is a lyrical, ambient thriller that honestly depicts the power of love and loss. Containing one the most brilliantly choreographed and exhausting fight-sequences in cinematic history, a stomach-churning consumption, and a reveal that is sure to linger. “Oldboy” is a vivid nightmare you’ll be glad to experience again and again.
Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is a business man and a notorious womanizer. On the night of his young daughter’s birthday, he is kidnapped and placed in a hotel-like prison. Confined to this room with no human contact or explanation for his imprisonment, his only connection the outside world is a television. Soon, he learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect. Oh Dae-su passes the time shadowboxing and planning his revenge. After fifteen years pass, he is released, also with no explanation. Given only several days to find his captor and discover the reason for his confinement, Oh Dae-su is forced to make quick friends and even faster decisions.
Amidst the physical onslaught and weaving its way through a fair amount of sensitive themes. “Oldboy” is somehow able to exude some very dark humour. However, this is not the only surprise director Chan-Wook Park offers in this ferocious, almost Shakespearean neo-noir. While “Oldboy” is exceedingly violent, at times down-right cringe worthy, it is not excessively gory. A true testament to the strength, subtlety, and beauty in Park’s work behind the camera. And even though it may not be Park by the book, it is delectable to witness his work unrestrained and unfinished, as if his imperfect perfection makes the film that much more rough and unsettling. This raspy, unpleasant film may not be for everyone, but to further cement how important and powerful “Oldboy” is, keep in mind it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004. They don’t give out that acknowledgement to just any film…but I digress.
Granted, “Oldboy” isn’t the most rewarding or satisfying flick out there and it doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. With Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” what you see is what you get, not that I’m complaining. It’s like a puzzle that you don’t fully understand until you start taking it apart, piece by piece. It is feverishly appeasing to all the cinematic senses and while it may not necessarily be a story that needs to be told. “Oldboy” is a brilliant take on what it means to be human and how low one has to sink in order to have that privilege revoked. Why the film manages to shock is obviously due to its reveal. However, the reason it’s so effective is because of the viewers inability to foresee the reveal coming. Not because it is sly or intricate, simply put…we don’t want it to be true. It’s a story of morals and righteousness that doesn’t teach a lesson.
“Oldboy” is a phenomenal series of highs and lows, it pulsates like a distant star. There is hope, then despair, a series of positives and negatives. Nothing is ever permanent or stable and this adds a seriously complex layer to the film that its leads are left to master. For example, Min-sik Choi’s protagonist is constantly built up and torn down. Resulting in a varying set of emotional requirements that he is left to try and balance. Nonetheless, Choi’s diverse range is predictably outstanding and he is nothing short of intimidating, spectacular, and relentless throughout. Ji-tae Yu’s antagonist is a repulsive, obsessive, regressive villain that never fails to astound with his deplorable, blood-thirsty tendencies, and of course Yu portrays this disgust immaculately. As for Hye-jeong Kang, she gives an honestly heartfelt and terrified performance, but compared to these heavyweight actors, she gets lost in their brilliance.
Brutal, disturbing, heartfelt, and utterly unnerving. Chan Wook Park’s “Oldboy” might not be for the faint of heart, but if you can take it, it’s one hell of a bumpy ride.
Oldboy: 9.5 out of 10.