Oldboy (2003) Review

I remember hearing about Oldboy all the time. Usually it is presented as the standard for revenge movies, where the main character goes through a long and difficult journey to get justice against those people who wronged him or her. I think I lumped it together with Fight Club and Donnie Darko in the “dark and well-made movies for guys” category. Oldboy existed on the fringes of my perception until last Sunday when Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson talked about the film on their podcast, The Canon.

Oldboy is the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man who is locked in a room for 15 years by a mysterious figure. Oh Dae-Su escapes from his cage and decides to get revenge on the guy who stole 15 years of his life. Over the course of his journey, Oh Dae-Su hurts a lot of people, gets hurt himself and eventually tracks down the man responsible for his imprisonment.

Oldboy is awesome. The film is based on a manga and watching it reminded me of reading a really superb comic book. The director Park-Chan Wook is adept at mixing humor with dark material. One memorable scene depicts Oh Dae-Su ordering his first meal after escaping. He orders “anything alive” and devours a live octopus. Watching Oh Dae-Su stuff the living octopus into his mouth was hilarious but also tragic for the octopus. The scene cuts back and forth between Oh Dae-Su eating and the waitress watching him with horror, revealing the indifference of Oh Dae-Su’s personality. He is the kind of guy who will do anything to get what he wants without considering how his actions affect other people.

The action scenes in Oldboy are another highlight. One scene shows Oh Dae-Su beating up a team of bad guys as if he exists in a side-scrolling video game. Describing this scene will not do it justice. It’s refreshing to see an action scene filmed this way because I am so used to the typical editing in other action movies. I can’t think of a better way to film this scene. If you have ever seen a style like this used in another movie, please let me know.

I don’t know why it took me this long to watch Oldboy. The film reminded me why I like watching movies, especially those that come from different cultures. Don’t be stupid like me. I am sure that I will watch Oldboy at least one more time and hopefully have more to write about it.

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