What if you were imprisoned without explanation in solitary confinement for 15 years?
What if you were released without explanation?
What if you had 5 days to determine why you had been imprisoned or you would return to prison?
This is the basis for Oldboy.
More Details. Oldboy is a 2003 Korean film starring Choi Min Sik as Oh Dae Su, a man imprisoned for 15 years without explanation and freed without explanation. Dae Su must find out who imprisoned him and why. Dae Su determines the “who” – Lee Woo Jin (Yoo Ji Tae) – but the “why” is buried deep. If Dae Su does not determine the “why” in 5 days, he will be imprisoned for the remainder of his life. With effort Dae Su does determine the “why” but the shocking secret is not the complete story. There is another secret that rocks Dae Su to his core. Will Dae Su survive to live a normal life or will he die in his pursuit of revenge?
What I liked about Oldboy:
Choi Min Sik as Oh Dae Su was riveting. I have never seen Min Sik before this impactful performance. Min Sik became Dae Su, fueled to find answers, able to take and deliver punishment, but with an underlying humanity and humor that surprised me.
Yoo Ji Tae as Lee Woo Jin was the mastermind behind everything that happened to Dae Su. Ji Tae’s performance was icy, twisted and controlled. His performance was as riveting as Min Sik’s. Good thing because the movie hinges on Woo Jin’s and Min Sik’s battle of wits.
The story is complex, straightforward, and surprising. You will not see all the twists and turns coming. There are moments that are funny, tender, violent, sexual, and shocking. The creative minds of the writers, Im Jun Hyeong, Hwang Jo Yoon (writer of Masquerade), and Park Chan Wook (director of Masquarade) crafted a gripping story. Oldboy is based on the Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegish.
The production is tight and striking with human frailty and revenge at the forefront. Park Chan Wook (director of Masquerade) creates a world that is dark and gritty. I found Oldboy stylistically similar to the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. Peter Bradshaw of the UK’s Daily Guardian declares “When it comes to gut-wrenchingly violent cinema, the Koreans are going further than anyone. And doing it better, too”. Oldboy won the Grand Prix at the 57th Cannes International Film Festival in 2004.
Cinematographer Jeong Jeong Hun created a visually stunning film with director Chan Wook. I concur that “Jeong Hun’s camera does not just stare but communicates with passion”.
What I did not like about Oldboy:
Torture. We all have our own tolerance for violence. The choreographed fights of Oldboy worked. However when the violence turned to torture, I elected to opt-out. I strongly dislike torture. I shut my eyes and utilized the mute button.
Ending is intentionally murky. Endings that are not clear cut can drive viewers crazy. This ending is open ended. For Oldboy, the ending felt right and I was satisfied.
Oldboy is considered one of the great Korean films. I do not know if I would go that far. I often find films that are labeled as great enjoyable but would not see again.
Oldboy is grabbed me, gripped me, and would not let me go until I learned why Dae Su was imprisoned without explanation. The why shocked me with a double whammy of secrets. The violence in this film was not gratuitous and furthered the story. Rogert Ebert described Oldboy as “a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose” in his well written review.
Bottom Line: Oldboy may not be for you. It worked for me.