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02 December 2005

OldBoy (2003)

Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yu Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin), Kang Hye-jeong (Mido), Ji Dae-han (No Joo-hwan)

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Paraphrased from IMDB: "An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. Then, he is unceremoniously released and equipped with money, a cell phone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, he discovers that his kidnapper still has plans for him and that those plans will prove even more horrific than 15 years of unexplained imprisonment."

Oh, oh, oh so messed up. Is this movie emblematic of Korean cinema? Or of South Korea in general? Apparently Koreans eat live squids, as did the protagonist, Dae-su, so maybe there is a culturally relevant reason why this film became such a phenomenon in its home country. Then again, it has become successful wherever it has been shown, earning dozens of awards, including the 2004 Cannes Grand Jury Prize. I wonder if it will be eligible for an Oscar? That would crack me up!

What would a story of revenge and forbidden passion look like if it was conceived in the brain of Quentin Tarantino, written by the guy who penned Se7en (before he became crap), and directed by the Japanese freak-master, Hideo Nakata, who did Ringu (remade in the States as The Ring)? Kinda like OldBoy, but not nearly so original. And by "original" I do not necessarily mean "good." I was a frenetic wreck after watching this monster, pestering Keven to admit he would never see the film (he has a tender stomach when it comes to on-screen gore) just so I could tell him what happened. I needed to put what I saw into words just to expunge it from my head.

Talking helped, but I have been consumed by ideas and images from this film for the two days past two days. Unpleasant? Yes. Riveting? Yes. Sick, dark, hilarious, disgusting, flinch-worthy, and truly compelling? Yes. I will not say anything about the plot, the flow of the story, or the conclusion on the off chance that someone out there is reading this and finds him- or herself just a little curious.

Find OldBoy. Strap in. Pay attention (it is subtitled from the original Korean, but that will be the least of your concerns). Get ready to hide your eyes when you see the claw end of a hammer. Did you see any breaks in the corridor scene, or was it truly a masterpiece of one-take film-making? See if you figure out the finale before all is revealed. (I was just expecting another unoriginal head in a box.) Or just see if you haven't found yourself watching one of the most interesting and intentionally shocking films of recent memory.

Blogger Ralph said...

Thanks for your smart review of Oldboy.I thought it was fantastic, the Asian films I have seen from Takashi Miike and Ki-Duk-Kim are hands down riveting. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Park's films. I like your blog and look forward to coming back again. Rollingpix

15:18  
Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Thanks! And thanks, also, for the Babelfish gizmo. Even if no one uses it, it looks official :)

17:33  
Blogger Mircalla said...

"... like if it was conceived in the brain of Quentin Tarantino, written by the guy who penned Se7en (before he became crap), and directed by the Japanese freak-master, Hideo Nakata, who did Ringu (remade in the States as The Ring)"

From this incipit, the film sounds awesome, ... until you specify: *original* does not necessarily means *good*. :o )

I have seen a Korean Film at the Korean Film Festival in London last year (can't remember the title). The cinema was full of Korean students. It was an odd film with an odd sense of humour, where nothing really happened, either in action or in words. Notwithstanding, I found it quite entertaining and, contaminated by the general laughs of the audience, followed the stream. Steve and Amanda, who were with me, were not of the same opinion: Amanda fell asleep after the first half an hour and Steve complained of the inappropriate laughter of the public. I was convinced that we missed some “culturally relevant reason” why the Koreans in the room seemed to fully enjoy it.

08:02  
Blogger carrie_lofty said...

"Good" is (to my thinking) a value judgment that reflects one's personal tastes. "Original" seems a little less subjective, although there are probably a zillion film buffs who might argue against this film's originality. It was original to me. It was good in that I was highly entertained, but I doubt I would see it again. The subject matter was too grim and I'm a wussy romantic when it comes to repeat movies!!

10:56  

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