banner image

:: Oldboy

The second film in Park Chan-wook’s Revenge Trilogy won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year and was a particular favourite with jury head, Quentin Tarantino. Adapted from a Japanese comic book, Oldboy has much that would appeal to the director of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction, with loads of violence and offbeat humour.

Oh Dae-Soo (Choi Min-sik) is an ordinary guy on his way home to his daughter’s birthday, when he is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. He is locked in what looks like a hotel room, but he’s treated like an animal. He doesn’t know who has done this to him, and is never told why he is being punished. He grows bitter, vengeful and descends into madness.

Then one-day he is released, as suddenly and mysteriously as he was captured. On the outside he befriends Mi-do (Gang Hye-jung), a pretty young sushi chef who decides to help him. Dae-soo sets off on a quest to find his faceless enemies. He must understand why they destroyed his life. He must have revenge.

Some beautifully constructed scenes do stick in the mind long after the credits roll. These are well filmed, well acted and thought provoking. Sadly, the overall plot is merely a weak transition between these scenes. One of the big twists can be guessed early on, and the other is so obscure and unlikely it’s a bit of an anticlimax. Rather than truly complex and developed characters, Oldboy is full of erratic and unlikely behaviour. The film even resorts to hypnotism to explain away things that don’t make sense.

Graphic depictions of torture and incest also make Oldboy an acquired taste. It relishes in violence, probably more than it needs to, yet has a lower body count than many Hollywood thrillers. Its manga roots give it a great intensity but the fight scenes fail to meet expectations. The bad guys drop like flies, unable to aim a punch, let alone a gun. Female characters also get a rough deal. It seems they are either ravaged by thugs, or are in want of ravaging and just too demure to say so directly.

Though somewhat overrated, Oldboy has its fun points and certainly pushes the boundaries when it comes to shock value. It aims high for its genre, and a huge cult following overseas would suggest it makes the grade.