“Oldboy” – Andrew Guarini

Revenge is a topic that is always absorbing for film. Maybe it’s because it is easy to root for a person to receive redemption against one who has done them wrong. A movie that gives new definition to what it means to be a well done revenge film is the 2003 Korean film Oldboy.

Upon my first watch of Oldboy, I cited it as my most dissapointing film of all time, scoring it a meager 4/10. I knew I had to be missing something, and upon second watch I realized what I had been missing. Chan-wook Park had done something truly visceral. He had shown that vengeance only breeds more vengeance. How could I have missed this poetic point?

Oldboy is the story of Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) and his 15-year misfortune. Taken prisoner without reason, and locked in a room for 15 years before being set free Oh Dae-su is devastated with curiosity for the answer to one question: why? Throughout the two hour roller coaster ride, we are efficiently treated to feeling exactly how Oh Dae-su feels: bewildered. We become as investigative as Dae-su is at finding the reason for his punishment. It is soon that he is presented with an incredible medium: does he seek vengeance on the man who did it, or find out the truth?

An intriguing premise isn’t enough to make a movie as spectacular as Oldboy. Thankfully director Chan-wook Park is a man of many talents, a true visionary behind the camera. Oldboy features one of the most unforgettable tracking shots I have ever seen. As Dae-su runs down a hallway fighting off an angry mob with a single hammer and his fists, we are treated to more than 3 minutes without a single cut. It isn’t just the style, but when and where it is used. Credit should be given to Park in helping us to understand the feelings behind each of the characters. Long, simplistic shots of characters faces help us to dive deeper into the whirlwind of emotions between the characters and the confusion that plagues them. I’ve never found it easy to judge foreign acting, but in terms of Oldboy both the casting and acting is spectacular. Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang fit their roles flawlessly. Min-sik Choi is the true acting vehicle of the film however as Oh Dae-su. Who could play this contorted soul more efficiently? I’d be hard pressed to find an answer.

But what will always throw me for a whirl with Oldboy is the stunning exposition. When I think about the elite among times a film has truly rocked me, especially ending wise, Oldboy nearly always comes to my mind first. Everything about the film snaps into place in what is as painful for us as it is to Oh Dae-su. In context, the ending is as dark and haunting as they come. It isn’t a conclusion that simply leaves your mind after the credits roll. In my case, it’s an ending that will stay with me for as long as I watch movies.

Oldboy is a film I love because of the spin that it puts on the average revenge film. Seemingly, it looks like a movie that once again glorifies the bloody and murderous path the anti-hero takes to claim his own brand of justice on those who wronged him. But in Oldboy’s case, it takes a flip-side. A man taking revenge, on a man who was taking revenge on him ironically enough. What happens in the end however in Oldboy is truly a lesson of the most sinister nature. One revenge only generates another.

Rating: ★★★★

-Andrew Guarini


Read Chris Luedtke’s Oldboy review here.

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