Oldboy is pure shock cinema that would have Takashi Miike on his knees.
Director Chan-wook Park is quickly making a name for himself in the Asian cult cinema community- only there’s something that separates him from the rest. In America, Asian cult cinema is instantly correlated with Takashi Miike, which is also affiliated with a sense of cheese and lack of ability to be serious. At least that’s my opinion. Chan-wook Park (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is so much alike Takashi Miike and yet so much different- so much better. Is that possible? I’ll get to this in a bit…
One of Park’s latest films, Oldboy, follows a man by the name of Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) who is kidnapped in the middle of a dark alley late one night. He awakes trapped in a hotel room with a TV, a bed and plenty of other random items to keep himself occupied. After 15 years he is let go. He awakes on a rooftop with a load of cash, a cell phone and a super nice suit. He then goes on a hunt to find the man (or men) necessary for his 15 years of torture. Funny thing is, he’s part of a game that the kidnapper(s) have planned. What’s the deal? What ensues is a classic cat and mouse game that will leave your eyes wide in shock until days later.
Now how can Chan-wook Park possibly be better than the legendary Takashi Miike? Because he can make his movie serious, keep you involved with the characters and then stun the audience while keeping a sense of realism without exaggeration throughout. I’ve only seen Sympathy and Oldboy but he uses the same devices in both films and has me begging for a copy of Three… Extremes to check out.
The opening sequence is one of the best portions of the film because it not only establishes character but it entertains to the fullest extent. We see Oh Dae-Su in a police station after disturbing the peace with his drunken tyrant. He’s so destroyed he dances, sings, screams, makes jokes and becomes a one man show for everyone in the station. We see that Oh is a loud mouth and talks way too much, which is important to the plot of the film. The villain(s) also become a part of the film and even though it starts off as a mystery, Park still finds time to get deep inside the psyche of the kidnapper(s). Oldboy is another case of Park creating a heavy sense of empathy for our heroes and villains, which he has become a master at.
The screenplay is fabulous. Throughout the film the dialogue is a very important part in the unfolding of the story. Specific lines are used to explain certain situations and their outcomes. SPOILER: One line in particular was absolutely brilliant and instantly made the movie turn a 360. There is a question asked that makes everyone in the audience feel like a total and complete ass, “The question isn’t why, it’s why for only 15 years?” END SPOILER. Although many of the surprises are obvious- they are still shocking as hell. When I thought I knew what was going on, I actually thought to myself, “Man I’m sick for thinking that,” so I disregarded my thoughts. But damn I was close- so who’s the sick one- Park, me or both of us?
As for the action, there is a lot of talk, but when the action gets going it gets gritty and rough. Think Kill Bill vol. 1 only he uses his fists! The blood level is intense and the use of the gore is frightening. Park had me cringing a couple of times throughout the flick. The way the violence is used in the film only heightens the realism of the experience. Want a taste? Think teeth being pulled out with the back side of a hammer! I bet you’ll keep your mouth closed now.
If you’re a fan of Takashi Miike, but are desperately dying for a film that can actually deliver and sustain a serious tone, Oldboy is the perfect film for you. Park has first-classed us a twisted, demented, revolting and yet captivating masterpiece that you’re guaranteed to be showing all your friends in a spastic frenzy.