“Oldboy” just doesn’t get old…

“Oldboy” just doesn’t get old…

Apr 5, 2011
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Tracking along with the DeFranco Nation Movie Club, website like this I’ve finally been enthused with a movie pick that I’m behind 100%. Day 16 had us watching the Korean revenge thriller, approved Oldboy. This is Park Chan-Wook’s most popular work. But let it be known he is a brilliant film-maker and ALL his films deserve high praise. Oldboy is the 2nd instalment of his “Vengeance Trilogy”. What’s fascinating about this trilogy is that the three films have only one common thread; the theme of vengeance. The characters are different, the stories are different and even the tone of each film is quite unique. They are hard to watch. Park pulls no punches when meditating on the theme of revenge. And while you feel completely sympathetic for the main characters (all of whom have had great loss), ultimately his point is that vengeance is an increasingly brutal and destructive pathway that leads only to further pain and chaos. Oldboy is a brilliant display of just that.

The film starts with a drunken, Oh Dae-Su, making havoc in a local police station. He’s obviously been detained for being a public nuisance. Eventually his friend picks him up and bails him out. They stop on the street at a phone booth to call Dae-Su’s home. While his friend takes the phone to chat with his wife, Oh Dae-Su is mysteriously abducted. Moments later we find him in a prison. Not your typical prison. This one looks like a cheap motel room. Except, he can’t leave. There are no windows. Guards slide food under his door.  They gas him in order to clean up his room and cut his hair. His only companion is the television. No human interaction. It is his own personal hell.

Oh Dae-Su has no idea why he is locked up or who his captor is. So, he makes lists of people he has wronged. He tries to figure out who his enemy is. He uses the plaster wall as a punching bag. He focuses all his energy on finding his captor and exacting revenge. Then finally, after 15 years, he finds himself on the roof of an apartment building, free to go. Or so it seems.

Dae-Su heads into a local restaurant. There he meets young and lovely Mi-do, the chef. She befriends him, takes him home and helps him as he tries to figure out who his enemy is. Through some very “interesting” investigative techniques, Dae-su finds the building he was once imprisoned in. There he tortures the warden for information. With only some blurry video tape of his captor he heads out. But not before fighting his way past dozens of goons. This fight scene is classic and one of the moments everyone recounts when you ask them if they’ve seen Oldboy. Dae-su has only a hammer to fight his way down a hall filled with a gang armed with bats and knifes. It is a 3-4 minute, single camera shot and it’s choreographed to perfection without feeling choreographed at all. As Oh Dae-su stumbles out to the street with a knife in his back, a good samaritan picks him up, places him in a taxi and orders the driver to take him to Mi-do’s home. He then says goodbye to Dae-su, by name. This is the man he’s been looking for!

The captor is Woo-jin and he has a proposal. Oh Dae-su is told that he has 5 days to discover Woo-jin’s motives or Mi-do will die. On the other hand, if he can discover his captor’s reason for ruining his life, then Woo-jin will kill himself. For a man filled with revenge, this is an intriquing proposal.

From there a love interest develops between Mi-do and Dae-su. As well, Dae-su continues to dig into his past and figures out who Woo-jin is and finally why they are in this vicious state of affairs. Suffice it to say, Oldboy spirals into a mad, breath-taking conclusion that is as perfect and disturbed as the setup.

This is the kind of story that resonates on such a deep level. While it is thoroughly entertaining with it’s pacing, fight sequences and dark humour, Oldboy is really about exposing the complexity of the human condition. What do we have when everything has been taken from us? We are left with ourselves; bare and human. But, unlike so many films, this story is not about the triumph of the human spirit. It’s about what happens when our pain gives way to a heart of anger, bitterness and revenge. The two main characters (Dae-su and Woo-jin) both have incredible loss in their lives. Love is lost. That which is most important to each man is robbed from him. And their losses can be directly tied to each other. So, each blames the other and a war is created. A battle fuelled by passion, anger and a supposed need for justice. When a man has nothing left to lose, he will behave very differently than when he has everything to lose. Few movies portray this so clearly, so powerfully as Oldboy does.

I’ve seen Oldboy six times now. Each time the experience is just as intense and raw as the previous time. That’s how you know a film is more than just cool camera tricks and clever twists. Oldboy has that AND the unflinching resolve to dig into the deepest, darkest recesses of the heart. Park Chan-Wook does not hesitate to peel the layers back, one at a time, no matter how difficult or painful it may be for the audience. But it’s worth it. And it’s the kind of art that never fades or gets tired. It just doesn’t get old.

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Craig the Critic

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