Oldboy (2004)

Laugh and the World Laughs With You.  Weep and You Weep Alone.

My friend TimKim is Asian.  That means he’s a weirdo.  And THAT means I’m a racist.  So when TimKim requested a movie of me, I assumed the movie would be a little bit on the weird side.  I had heard of the movie he requested a long time before he got around to requesting it, but I had never felt particularly drawn to watching it.  But I take my requests vaguely seriously.  I will watch and review any movie that is requested of me, so long as I remember it long enough to actually do it.  But I remembered this one because I, unlike most people, do not forget things that happened when I was drunk, as I was when TimKim requested this movie.  And with the movie being available to stream on Netflix, and me without a movie to watch, I decided this was as good a time as any to review Oldboy, written and directed by Chan Wook Park, and starring Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Yun Jin-seo, Ji Dae-han, Kim Byeong-ok, and a bunch of other people that look like TimKim.

For reasons unknown to him, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is held captive in what looks like a hotel room for 15 years.  His only window to the world is his television, which tells him early on that his wife has been murdered, his young daughter has been sent to a foster home, and he is the prime suspect in the murder of his wife.  He tries to kill himself numerous times, but is repaired and returned to the room.  He spends his time shadowboxing and punching a wall to harden his knuckles, waiting for the time when he can eventually exact his revenge.  At the 15 year mark, he is released with just as little explanation as he got when he was imprisoned.  Shortly after, he meets a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) and she helps him try to find his kidnappers.

As I expected going into this movie, Oldboy is really weird.  What I didn’t expect was that it’d also be really good.  It’s super fucked up, but a really good movie.  It’s a double revenge movie.  Oh Dae-su is trying to get revenge on Lee Woo-jin, and Lee Woo-jin is trying to get revenge on Oh Dae-su, but we have no idea why until the end.  When we find out, it’s fucked up why he’s getting revenge, but exceptionally more fucked up how he gets his revenge.  The method Oh Dae-su uses to get his revenge is pretty simple: he punches a lot of people in the face until he finds out what he wants.  The fights are not very spectacular, but they do film them in a spectacular way.  The movie is filled with a lot of cool camera transitions.  I particularly liked the side-scrolling way they filmed a scene where Oh Dae-su fought his way down a hallway full of his enemies.  It was like watching a more brutal version of Double Dragon.  I didn’t understand why he would drop the knife he was holding in order to fight people with a hammer, but he wasn’t the most mentally stable individual so you have to give him a pass.  There were a few occasions in the movie where they had some pretty damned good dialogue.  I particularly liked when Oh Dae-su was threatening to cut off someone’s hand because he touched Mi-do’s breast and he asked, “Then what about my tongue?”  Some of the dialogue was probably hurt by the translation as the version streaming on Netflix was dubbed, but it mostly went okay.  I don’t know that it’s possible for someone to “revenged themselves”, but I also don’t know that it’s not.  They did seemingly forget that people that can’t speak the language probably can’t read the language, but I don’t feel like I missed anything.  The last couple things I wanted to say require ::SPOILER ALERT::  And do not read this if there is ANY chance you will see this movie!  So the reason Lee Woo-jin has been torturing Oh Dae-su is because Dae-su saw Woo-jin fucking his sister and told people in school about it.  Personally, I’m okay with Dae-su telling everyone.  Maybe you shouldn’t have been fucking your sister.  But that’s not how Woo-jin sees it and constructs a very elaborate scheme – involving a 15 year imprisonment and hypnosis – to get his revenge by eventually getting Dae-su to unknowingly fuck his daughter, Mi-do.  Holy shit!  Also, I don’t feel like that’s an eye for an eye stuff right there.  As bad as it is that your sister killed herself because the school knew she fucked her brother, it does not seem as bad as what you did to Dae-su.  ::END SPOILERS::

I had no complaints about any of the performances in the movie.  Choi Min-sik portrayed crazy very well, but didn’t go over the top with it all the time.  But he sure did seem crazy.  Near the end of the movie, crazy did hit a breaking point and keep going, but with what had just happened it was completely excusable.  Kang Hye-jeong and Yun Jin-seo both got some boobies out, so there’s that.

I would thoroughly recommend this movie, but I would definitely recommend that you not go in thinking this is the Korean version of a Disney movie.  Those singing birds that help you get dressed are going to get sodomized with a hammer that will shortly thereafter flatten their skulls.  It’s a very pretty way to make you uneasy, and the ending of the movie is not intended to make you happy, but it’s definitely one of the coolest and most thought-provoking revenge films I can think of.  Give this a look on Netflix streaming.  Oldboy gets “You really are the very monster I created” out of “Do you want revenge, or do you want the truth?”

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