“Oldboy” – Chris Luedtke

The name Oh Dae-su, according to Oldboy’s dialogue, means “gets along with everyone.” What a fitting name for such a grisly tale. According to the back of the box, this is a simple tale of revenge, but no, this tale is much deeper than it ever lets off. On a night fifteen years ago, Oh Dae-su was taken hostage by an unknown person or persons and confined in a motel-like room. After the aforementioned fifteen years, Oh Dae-su is thrown into the real world with a fresh set of clothes and a few accessories. The only thing he know is that he has five days to find his wrongdoers and avenge what has been done to him.

The only way someone could ever call this film simple is if they neglect the drive behind every character. This is one of the few films where I can say everything has significance; no film is wasted on a character aimlessly tying their shoes or having some sort of dialogue that doesn’t lead to any significance or revelations later on. The precision with this story is uncanny and extremely rare. Just when you think you know it all, the film slaps you in the face and tells you that you don’t know anything. And oh, what a glorious slap that is.

The dynamic and questionable characters in here are flat-out amazing. Min-sik Choi does a great job as the tormented Oh Dae-su, and his sushi scene is downright awesome (I would love to get into this but you just have to see it for yourself…wow). The villain Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) has such interesting motives that every time he comes onscreen, we can’t help but watch him and wonder exactly what’s going through his head and what Dae-su did to deserve his fate. We also can’t help but wonder why Dae-su and Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) become so immediately fascinated with each other.

Settings march from brutal to beautiful at a mile a minute. There are times where settings look broken and other times when they look fixed with a polish. The polished times are the times we believe we’ve got it figured out; never forget, you don’t have it figured out. Dark themes are bathed with the camera. The torture scenes will make your skin crawl, and the hallway fight scene…well, that is one of the greatest fight scenes ever.

If you haven’t managed to catch Oldboy yet, I can’t stress enough that you do. Even now that it’s been out for four and a half years, it still feels heavily underappreciated, but its popularity is growing slowly. Out of Park Chan-wook’s “vengeance” trilogy, this one is easily the best. Its predecessor Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is definitely a worthy view, but I have yet to see Lady Vengeance, so I can’t recommend that one yet. If you’re new to this trilogy, just get Oldboy first, because this is a piece of total cinematic ass-kicking; plus you don’t need to see the other two to get this one.

Rating: ★★★★

-Chris Luedtke

 

Read Andrew Guarini’s Oldboy review here.

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