Film Review: Oldboy (2003)
You know what movie is so completely fucked up that it completely scars you forever? It’s a movie so unashamed to fucking go there that it not only goes there but leaves a revolting trail of incestuous blood that refuses to leave your mind years upon years after its release. It is a cult film at this point but is just as well-known outside cinephilic circles as it is in the general public. Of course I’m referring to Park Chan Wook’s 2003 Oldboy. As a general movie viewer with a hard-hitting feminist agenda, I think this movie is completely fucked up on an infinite amount of insurmountable levels. But as a movie lover who loves a good ol’ revenge story, I think this movie is completely fucked up but on such a level that it just somehow works. It’s disgusting, visceral, shocking, breathtaking, and you really cannot watch Oldboy with any expectation of sanity or a faint heart because it only works as a truly unique and devastating cinematic nightmare.
- Major spoilers ahead -
If you choose to take the red pill, I recommend avoiding all spoilers because Oldboy is a complete cinematic experience - from beginning to end, it immerses you into this other world of revenge and thriller with captivating story, cinematography, and editing. But if you must know, Oldboy stars Choi Min-Sik as Oh Dae-Su (based off Oedipus) who was abducted on the night of his young daughter’s birthday and held captive in a hotel-like cell room for 15 years without any knowledge of his captor or motives whatsoever. He’s suddenly released one day and makes it his goal to exact revenge on his captors until he meets and falls in love and lust with a young female sushi chef. Seemingly typical story right?
WRONG! It all starts out innocently enough but you know there’s something wrong when the major events of the film essentially begin with him consuming a giant whole octopus raw in a long take. It’s such a disgusting and visceral scene but completely sets the tone for the rest of the film. The sushi chef, Mi-Do, watches and is intrigued. Sparks fly between them, etc etc. As they become closer and engage in explicit sex, a drastic turn of events occurs when Dae-Su realizes who his captor is, why his captor did what he did, all for the truth to explode in his face. His captor is revealed to be an old high school classmate by the name of Lee Woo-Jin who he once caught having incestuous sex with his own sister. And in order for Woo-Jin to avenge his sister’s suicide, he did the absolute unthinkable and locked away Dae-Su for 15 years and kept track of his young daughter as she grew up to become the young sushi chef Dae-Su fell in love and had sex with! Is that fucked up or WHAT! The moment Dae-Su realizes all of this is an ice-cold chilling scene that sends shivers down your entire body and makes you want to vomit everything you’ve just seen. The scene also wouldn’t be complete without Woo-Jin being petty af and playing sound recordings of Dae-Su and his daughter having sex in the background. The very final shot of the movie is perhaps one of the most intriguing in cinema as Dae-Su has chosen to hypnotize himself and wipe his memories so he and Mi-Do can live in ignorant bliss. But the last shot of Dae-Su smiling widely in Mi-Do’s arms as his face slowly wrinkles into a perplexing expression of pain and suffering leaves you wondering if the hypnosis truly worked.
This movie is so gross and I can never unsee it and I refuse to watch it again. Park Chan-Wook manages to pay just enough diligent attention to every one of these cartoonish characters while adding a dash of dark realism to deliver a true masterpiece of utter sick revenge. It’s tightly written and expertly layered with violent action, thrilling narrative, ingenious cinematography and unabashed acting that all function together to deliver a truly disturbing and sickening tale of incestuous relations and vengeance. As part two of Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy is flanked between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and serves to stand as Park’s best work. To this day, I doubt there is a film that matches Oldboy’s combination of cinematic perfection and utter sickness.
On a larger scale, Oldboy is a disgusting arthouse type of film that swept the cinematic world when it premiered. But somehow it remains just as relevant to South Korea’s pop cultural history. To this day, there are a million references constantly made to the funnier aspects of the movie (like Dae-Su being served fried dumplings while imprisoned). But more to the point, Oldboy falls in the realm of South Korean cinema that absolutely and almost masochistically indulges in the #extra - be it violence, sex, food, you name it (it’s no coincidence that mukbang originated in SK). Like many other cultures, the real anxieties of South Korea - whether political, social, military, etc - emerge very evidently in its cinema.
Stream Oldboy now on Netflix!