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Oldboy (2003)

December 27, 2009

8/10 House Arrests

Totally nuts, but in a good way…for the most part.

Oldboy is about an otherwise ordinary Korean guy named Oh Dae-Su who gets picked up off the street after a drunken bender and, for reasons unknown, is imprisoned in a makeshift hotel room for fifteen years. Then one day he’s set free, so he hits the road to find out who locked him up, why he was locked up, and a multitude of other questions that pop up on his quest for revenge.

The first time I saw this I had to watch it with English dubs on because it’s hard enough to get other people to watch an obscure Asian movie they’ve never heard of, let alone convince them to read for two hours on top of it. Point is, English dubs always suck and it’s about damn time I gave this one a second chance after not giving it the fair shot it initially deserved.

And while I totally dug it, I’m not so sure I’d go so far as to call it the best movie of the decade. Then again, can’t say I’ve ever seen a whole lot of movies like Oldboy before.

After seeing Three…Extremes not too long ago which also featured a segment directed by Chan-wook Park (or is it Park Chan-wook, anyone care to clear this up for me?) and giving this one another go around, I think I’m finally starting to realize why I’m falling back in love with Asian horror movies. The reason? You can get away with anything in Asian cinema, far more so than the American censors would ever allow. Kill Bill: Volume 1 is about as far as we’ve gotten.

Case in point: Oldboy.

Now, this is a movie that pushes your limits. A lot of the stuff that goes down will have you twisting your face around in utter disbelief and might just be totally off-putting if you don’t know what you’re getting into, and even if you do know what’s coming it’s still pretty out there. It’s taboo, it’s brutal, and it’s not for everyone, but it is a freakin’ wild ride all the same.

This is mostly due in part to two things.

1. The script here is great in that it’s totally original and shamelessly unafraid. If the synopsis alone is enough to draw you in, everything else that follows will only make you want to keep watching. Oh Dae-su’s journey is one that continually ups the ante on itself and will stick with you for a good long while after he figures everything out. After all, who doesn’t like a good revenge story? Some homeys need to pay. Am I right or am I right or am I right? Right? Right?

2. Chan-wook Park is one badass director with style to burn. The guy gets down and dirty with everything the script has to offer and makes it look beyond cool in the process. One of the most insano uncut fight scenes I’ve ever seen featuring Oh Dae-Su singlehandedly taking on roughly a dozen armed thugs in a narrow hallway using only his bare fists and a hammer? Nuts. Having Oh Dae-Su eat through a live octopus while its writhing tentacles wrap around his hands and face? Double nuts. I’d go so far as to say this movie reaches the pantheon of “Quintuple nuts” or whatever comes after that, but alas, you’re gonna have to find out why for yourselves. It also helps that Park’s got one wacko sense of humor to offset, or rather complement, the wacko nature of the plot. Had me laughing out loud at parts.

The characters are also great. So is Min-sik Choi’s performance as Oh Dae-su. That right there is one hardcore dude.

But like I said, Oldboy most definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and that’s it’s one downfall. I wish I could recommend this sucker to everyone and give it the holy 10 out of 10 Home Arrests, but the truth is that I’m going to be very careful about who I’m gonna be lending this out to. One of those things that’ll almost put a bad taste in your mouth the further down the rabbit hole you fall and make some folks question your judgment in all things decent the minute that octopus scene goes down.

Nonetheless, if you’re up for it and you’re looking for something new with a “Korean Tarantino” feel to it, go ahead and check out Oldboy. Just don’t write me back about what a sick freak I am. I gave you more than enough of a fair warning on this one.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2010 1:11 pm

    Glad you gave it a second chance! Dubs are the suck

  2. January 4, 2010 7:43 pm

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw this film, absolutely blew me away and left me speechless.

    Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (the first in the trilogy) is also an amazing story but didn’t think much of Lady Vengeance first time round.

    • January 4, 2010 8:19 pm

      Yeah, I’m looking forward to checking out Sympathy and Lady Vengeance. I’ll get around to ’em one of these days.

  3. March 16, 2010 9:13 am

    Man, don’t go ruining my day by comparing the awesome Park to that hack known as Tarantino! 🙂

    I really liked Oldboy, but truth to be told I prefer both Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance to Oldboy. Lady Vengeance in particular I found to be his masterpiece, a master class in subtlety, layering and atmosphere.


  1. Oldboy (2003) – What the Hell Should I Watch on NETFLIX?

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