A revenge tale is only as good as the characters are written, and this film is brilliantly adapted from the 90's comic. The characters, who were apparently not developed enough in the comic, are well established within the first 20 minutes. All characters are brought around nicely by the time the credits roll, which contributes to the devastation of the film's emotional gut punch towards the end.
One of the main reasons the characters work so nicely, is that Park provides character development in more ways than one. Whether it be through an important close up on our lead character's face or even a well-timed artistic metaphor, the story is so well-realized through its characters. Being that it's a tragic story that turns into a revenge flick but then turns back into a tragic tale again, you need to believe both sides of the coin. Min-sik Choi and Ji-tae Yu do a tremendous job at rounding out motivations as Dae-su and Woo-jin respectively.
In order to feel the full impact of emotion Park was going for, you have to be with the film every step of the way. Although there are some plot points that blur the lines of being plot holes, Park gives us at least an acceptable answer to keep us engaged. Even just looking at the thrilling action sequences, which can be over-the-top and 'Raid'-like at times, is acceptable after seeing the finished product.
Oldboy is a modern day classic. Not necessarily the type of film I would want to revisit more than once, but I got the full emotional impact that I had hoped for. Chan-Woo Park majestically directs the comic to life better than anyone possibly could.
+Impressive fight scenes
+Devastatingly beautiful storytelling
-Potential holes in the story
Oldboy is nothing short of a shocking experience. Though it's notorious for its use of violence, the shock factor does not stop there. Expanding beyond its sense of style, Oldboy tackles the kind of themes that western cinema rarely dares to cross into. As a result, it becomes an incredibly definitive film of its culture which just goes to show what kind of power rests within the cinema of South Korea.
The film opens up with an immediate mystery that bears no clues as to what the answer could be; the protagonist is kidnapped by ambiguous perpetrators and audiences have no idea what the motives could be. From there, we see Oh Dae-su immediately descend into madness as his obsession with vengeance begins to take over. Oldboy sets into a deep tale of twisted human sadism very fast, and though it is hardly as violent as its controversy may proclaim there is still a lot of violence and striking themes for viewers to get hit with. There ends up being a lot to take in, more theoretically than visually. As a result the experience can be somewhat overwhelming at times due to the large quantity of plot dynamics and characters to keep up with as well as the fact that it is contextualized by a plot structure which sporadically breaks away from formal methods. However, the experience as a whole is an unforgettable one.
Oldboy is a film so deeply determined to power through its narrative that it never gets distracted by tedious subplots and arbitrary melodramatic themes, rather focusing on Oh Dae-su's quest for retribution. Distanced from the style of Hollywood productions, the protagonist is not an undefeatable killing machine destroying everyone his path. Instead, he is an actual human being whose descent into madness drives him into a path of psychological twists and turns. These are paths American filmmakers dare not cross, yet director Park Chan-wook fearlessly steps into them with a deep perspective on how to empower the narrative using them. Never before have I seen an examination so mercilessly raw as Oldboy, and Park Chan-wook explores it all extremely well without ever rendering the themes as cheap gimmicks. The dark concepts lead into a deep examination of the flaws of humanity; how obsession with vengeance is unfulfilling and self-destructive. The drama refuses to come up short in any of this and forces the viewer to confront its raw intense results, creating a shocking and unforgettable narrative. Oldboy functions as a powerful psychological thriller, a strong character piece and a love story all at once. It may be a lot to take in, but it is undeniably worth the experience for everything from its powerful screenplay to impressive sense of style.
Oldboy has a strong sense of style to it. Though the scenery it uses is mostly naturalistic, Park Chan-wook find life in all this through the implementation of a monochromatic tone. There is a use of greyish sepia to darken the mood of the entire experience, and it helps the atmosphere of the film develop. The cinematography itself is brilliant because it captures a claustrophobic feeling to signify how Oh Dae-su has become trapped in the confines of his mind. Audiences themselves get this feeling of being trapped, and the use of imagery is extremely consistent throughout the feature. Some of the most striking moments of imagery comes from the film's raw depiction of violence, ranging from bodily dismemberment to a scene where Choi Min-sik eats a live octopus on camera. All the weird visuals in Oldboy are supported by the magnificent work of Jo Yeong-wook's musical score. It is one which evokes themes of damaged spirit but ambition as a means of matching the determined motives behind the protagonist, grasping a mood which can be striking in its intensity or melancholic at other moments. All in all, Oldboy is a powerful experience of sights and sound.
Oldboy holds the status of creating one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema. Though not an action film, Oldboy maintains the kind of fight scene that filmmakers can only dream of crafting and action junkies can only dream of experiencing. In the most distinctive sequence from the film, Oldboy depicts a scene in which Oh Dae-su fights off a horde of criminals within a hallway. This all occurs over the course of a singular take, and it is a testament to the director's magnificent sense of imagery. This scene is extremely clever due to its realism; Oh Dae-su fights off every character within a confined space where the narrow nature of the hallway blocks his enemies from reaching him, and the cinematography pans along horizontally without transcending its two-dimensions. Playing out almost like a fighting game, Oldboy's hallway fight scene is a singular smoothly-panning take where Choi Min-sik has to stand his ground against many foes and does it with magnificent fighting skills. This scene is unlike any action scene from Western media for many reasons. The lack of editing is one, but the realism is a key factor. Oh Dae-su gets injured and knocked down repeatedly, and it takes its physical toll on him. He pulls himself up to keep going, but he is clearly physically damaged by it. He is not the invincible killing machine of an action hero from a Hollywood film; he is just a man driven by a mad pursuit of vengeance. This scene epitomizes it all with some of the most amazing action that anyone can ever experience on the cinematic screen, while also testifying to Choi Min-sik's remarkable fighting talents.
Choi Min-sik's work in the action scenes is just one of the many powerful things about his performance in Oldboy. Born to play the role of Oh Dae-su, Choi Min-sik goes on a complete descent into madness to accurately capture the character. He starts as an inwardly-driven egotist who is then broken down to the last shards of his humanity before losing sight of them and disappearing into the mouth of madness. His descent into insanity is the most raw thing he does, slowly detaching from his humanity until he becomes a numb to it. He becomes a broken man, surviving solely hatred and desire for retribution. As a result, he is an incredibly unpredictable antagonist who is dripping with raw human emotion. Choi Min-sik sinks himself into the darkest side of human emotion to capture an almost primitive human being. Choi Min-sik grasps the absolute insanity of Oh Dae-su with utter perfection in Oldboy, and he flawlessly oscillates between shocking audiences with his inherent strength one minute and having them sympathize in the next. It is one of the finest portrayals of a man driven into adness that I have ever seen, and it helps to anchor the film's exploration of humanity in a powerful central performance.
Kang Hye-jung also contributes a strong supporting effort. She has such a gentle spirit to her; a feeling of innocence that stands out in the dark world of the story, and one which elicts a strong chemistry with Choi Min-sik. Yoo Ji-tae also makes for a strong antagonist, keeping all his anger reserved to the subtext of his line delivery which he disguises beneath a sophisticated demeanour. He is cleverly manipulative.
Oldboy's shock value and many themes can be a lot for viewers to take in, but it is strongly-scripted and remarkably intelligent examination of human madness with a powerful atmosphere driven by strong imagery, powerful music and a striking central performance from Cho Min-sik.
Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) is a careless drunk and has rubbed many people the wrong way. On his daughter's birthday, he is abducted and put in a room without giving a reason for the cause. He is put in an independent room of an apartment without any scope for a conversation except for a television, mostly drugged, fed the same duck dumpling and occasionally visited by a hypnotist. As he prepares himself by learning boxing and other martial arts from what he can gather from television to extract revenge on the person who might have done this to him and also digging a tunnel in parallel for his escape, one fine day he is let off after 15 years. Can he do what he has been preparing for?
It is a captivating premise to be imprisoned without knowing the reason and source while also keeping the audience in the same state of ignorant mind as the protagonist. This establishes an empathy from the audience who will embark on a journey with the protagonist till the end of story (or the reveal). As the hype builds up over a period of time, it cannot be fizzled out with a run-of-the-mill reason and that's where the story kicks into another least expected dimension. All the loopholes and misfires are temporarily forgotten and we change to the new ride and hop along with a renewed interest which again acts in the movie's favor.
A special mention should go to Ji-tae Yu who plays the character Woo-jin Lee, he does it with such elan that makes you think that you are not just seeing a good vs. evil story. The story and screenplay is well thought out and executed that greatly influences how the editing eventually turns out. While the boldness of the content is surely to be appreciated in a mainstream cinema, the way it ends is what emphasizes the grayness of the human mind. A classic generally attributes to how the audience reacted to it rather than how well it is made, in that aspect Oldboy definitely is a cult classic that overcomes the goofy acting, uneven scenes and continuity issues to become something that is much more.
Less you know about it, more you can enjoy its forbidden, adventurous and a bumpy ride.