Monday, March 22, 2010

"Oldboy" (2003)

"Oldboy" (2003)
Starring Man-sik Choi, Ji-Tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang
Written by Garon Tsuchiya
Directed by Chan-wook Park

Lots of revenge stories are pretty simplistic: someone is wronged, and goes on a killing spree to avenge said wrong.  In "Oldboy," a Korean film from 2003, the violence takes a back seat to a noir-ish style, and a twisting, turning revenge tale that never seems to go where you expect it.  Where does it go?  To ridiculous depths of torture of different kinds. 

"Oldboy" is the story of Dae-su Oh, a husband and father who finds himself imprisoned for 15 years.  He is kept in a room that seems much like a hotel, but features a heavy steel door he can't get through.  He is regularly drugged to keep him in line.  He maintains his sanity by keeping track of time and slowly hatching a plan for escape and training his body.  Just before he manages to escape, he's visited by a hypnotist.  He soon awakes on the roof of a building, out in the real world, and begins his quest to track down those who imprisoned him and took his life away.  He finds he's wanted for the murder of his wife, and discovers that his daughter has been taken to another country.

After passing out at a restaurant, he's helped and nursed by a young sushi chef named Mi-do, and the two quickly fall for each other.  As Dae-su attempts to get his revenge, unraveling a conspiracy against him that stretches back for his entire life, "Oldboy" turns everything upside-down on its audience.   The finale is a sequence absolutely drenched not only in blood but in emotion, one that will leave you simply stunned.  Just who is getting revenge on whom and for what here?  To what depths would you go to get back at someone? 

Going into it, I thought "Oldboy" was going to be another blood-soaked "Kill Bill" sort of affair.  But once I realized exactly what I was getting into, I was hooked.  The film can feel a little over-long at times, but ultimately, it was an intense and draining experience.  It has bursts of action that are well-done and entertaining, but ultimately this is a revenge drama, not an action film.  The performances are excellent, and I was surprised that even the English dub had managed to find worthwhile voice actors to fill in these parts.  Normally, one is subjected to all kinds of terrible voice acting, but "Oldboy" fares quite well when translated. 

"Oldboy" is not for the squeamish, however.  The final reveal is sickening, and there are several scenes of torture and bloody violence, as well as sex and nudity.  It's an intense film from start to finish, but one that I can highly recommend to those who can stomach it.