Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy has spent the last two years dominating film festivals, breaking box-office records, and generally blowing both critics and audiences away with its mercurial mix of a violent and humourous revenge tale, blended with a jarringly effective love story, yet it is just now making its way to American theaters. So would I be wrong in proclaiming it the best film of 2005, seeing as how it was originally released in 2003? Probably, but I’m going to anyway.
Daesu Oh (Choi) is an average man, who is abducted and held in a mock apartment for 15 years, fed a steady diet of dumplings and television, and spends his every waking hour preparing himself for the day in which he will escape from this prison and punish those who put him there. However, when he wakes up in a suitcase atop a downtown building, Daesu may not be quite as prepared as he had imagined himself. With little memory of life before imprisonment, Daesu depends on his training, his rudimentary knowledge of everything he’s absorbed through countless hours of watching television, and his taste for vengeance to track down his captors. With the aid of a charming young girl named Mi-Do (Kang), and a smattering of clues offered by his abductors, Daesu finds that he is still little more than a pawn in a madman’s game, but it is a game he is determined to win! However, when the truth is finally revealed, will revenge be enough?
Featuring an absorbing and brilliant concept, fantastic performances by Choi, Ji-Tae Yu, and Kang, and an exemplary job of direction by Park, Oldboy is nothing short of phenomenal entertainment. Everything works in this movie, from its laugh out loud funny humor, and visceral fight scenes (some of the most realistic and harrowing bouts of fisticuffs I’ve ever witnessed), to the remarkably rich and realized relationship between Daesu and Mi-do.
Oldboy blends the punch and manic fury of Takashi Miike (sans the excess gore) with the visual panache of Jean Pierre Jeunet: it’s a film that’s both intense and disturbing, but also as whimsical and beautiful. I found myself alternating between cringing at some of the onscreen horrors, yet fearing to do so in the event that I would miss something, for Park seems to find the beauty in even the most horrific of instances.
As I’m sure you can tell by the preceding paragraphs, I am totally in love with Oldboy. This is a film that is uncompromising on every level, and is one of the few movies to live up to its well deserved hype. Equal parts satisfying revenge thriller, and oddly moving, hypnotically quirky love story, Oldboy is a masterpiece, pure and simple.