Original Title: 올드보이
Release Date: November 21, 2003
Based on a Comic by: Nobuaki Minegishi
Screenplay by: Lim Joon-hyung, Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Chun-hyeong, Park Chan-wook
Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang
Dirty walls. A bed. A bathroom. A television. Meals that mysteriously appear three times a day. Complete and utter isolation. This is the existence for Oh Dae-su (Choi), who after a drunken night spent in a police station on his daughter’s sixth birthday is inexplicably kidnapped and held captive for 15 years. No rhyme, no reason. Mere heartbeats after hanging up with his daughter, a bag is shoved over his head and he wakes up in a dingy hotel room.
15 years. 15 years of waiting. 15 years of absolute silence, a creeping loneliness that haunts him, turning his confused thoughts into hallucinations about ants crawling from his very skin. 15 years etched into his hand with a makeshift tattoo needle made out of a notebook wire. Then suddenly, he wakes up inside a suitcase on a roof – new suit, new cell phone, new life. Freedom? The new phone that he finds in his pocket rings. The caller informs him that he has five days to figure out who kidnapped him and for what reason – all this in the first 30 minutes of the film.
It’s a story about loss. No, more than loss. It’s a story about unconscionable emptiness, an emptiness that either leaves you wanting or births a rage in you that propels you to fill it. In his journey to understand this bleakness, Dae-su-shi meets Mi-do, a young woman as full of life and promise as anything he’s ever come across. A young woman who’s nearly half his age. However, a twisted romance unfolds that soon turns into something quite terrifying.
Let me just come clean. Oldboy is one of my all-time favorite films. The darkness in it is so palpable it almost reaches out and traces its soft finger over your flesh, leaving goose bumps in its wake. Park’s camerawork coupled with Tsuchiya’s story brings to the screen an experience that is at once confusing to some viewers yet sweepingly beautiful to others. It’s mystery, yes. But it’s also romance, action, drama, and an overwhelming sense of impending fear that runs its course until the dynamic ending sequence. The snapshots of Dae-su-shi’s life after getting his freedom are spectacular displays of emotion masked in ferocious coldness.
Then there’s the crispness of the actors themselves. Dae-su-shi’s tormenter, Woo-jin (played with chilling precision and fearlessness by Yu Ji-tae) is a study in complexity. He’s unapologetic, unwavering. Yet there’s morose pain buried deep in his gut that wriggles its way into your soul. For his part, Choi Min-sik is astonishing as the hapless protagonist bent on revenge. Kang Hye-jeong as Mi-do also serves as a soft anchor to the imminent rage throbbing underneath the surface.
As the first in the Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy may have also been the series’s best. It’s dark, painful, and in the end a film comprised of resounding sorrow. Park Chan-wook’s most infamous film is a master class in building suspense, not for a resolution, per se (almost halfway in, the viewer already realizes the ending). However, the way in which it unfolds is both repulsive and glorious, a grisly realization of the frailty of humanity. It’s truly a film that captures the essence of stony silence, yet leaves the mind full of so much noise it’s a wonder most didn’t come away screaming. And yet the pain in the film was enough to break my heart and keep me shivering from the effort to hold back threatening tears for days after.
The screening times for Oldboy at the 3rd Korean Film Festival in Australia are:
Sydney: Friday, August 24th at 10pm (with a Gangster Dress-up Contest)
Melbourne: Saturday, September 8th at 9pm (with a Korean Cult Film forum)
Brisbane: Friday, September 28th at 8:45pm (with a Gangster Dress-up Contest)
For more information, including ticketing information, visit the KOFFIA website.