| June 22, 2004

One late night after work, Oh Dae-su has been drinking far too much and is picked up by the police. It’s his daughter’s birthday and his loud mouth has gotten him into trouble yet again. Truly a character who wears his heart on his sleeve, Oh Dae-su speaks his mind freely, not caring who gets hurt in the process. Too embarrassed to call his wife, he calls upon an old friend from school to bail him out. Steps away from the police station, Oh Dae-su calls home from a pay phone, telling his daughter Mido that Daddy’s on his way home with her gift, that he loves her more than life itself. He hands the phone to his old buddy, who apologizes to Mido and her mother, and gets off the phone only to find that Oh Dae-su has disappeared.
When next we see Oh Dae-su, he is being held captive in a strange cellblock that looks more like a minimalist studio apartment that has been razed to the bare concrete walls. This will be his home for the next fifteen years. During that time–remarkably, it’s actually only about 15 minutes of screen time–Oh Dae-su changes drastically. He goes through all of the phases of being in lock-down: depression, self-deprecation, anger, rage, frustration, remorse, resignation, and finally settling upon rebirth and revenge. His only companion during this time is a television, and he absorbs all of the useless information it spews forth, which he will then turn around and use in casual conversation with complete strangers, often to their surprise and amazement at his suspected “intelligence.”
But all of this is only the beginning. The story continues to take new and unexpected turns, piling exposed truth upon exposed lie, until finally Oh Dae-su is face-to-face with his captor, and the reason for his imprisonment. The conclusion is completely stunning but perfectly fitting.
Oldboy is directed by Chan-wook Park, who also made the superb Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Those films were each great in their own way, but Oldboy far surpasses them for sheer ingenuity and originality. Park has no problem tackling serious social issues, and in Oldboy he zeroes in on that which is most crucial to us all, the family, and what it means to our very existence. The wonderful thing about Park is that he takes “larger” issues–freedom, friendship, a parent’s love–and focuses them down on a single individual, and he does so in a way which we can all relate. And at the same time he excites us with new and fresh presentations for age-old stories, placing his characters in unusual and exceptional situations which might otherwise seem overwhelming.
I encourage you to see this film as soon as you can. It is truly amazing.

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