Recent East Asian Cinema #4: Oldboy.

Welcome to the fourth of seven posts that will detail East Asian cinema, giving genre history leading up to a recent movie which will be reviewed! I hope you enjoy the series. For more information or previous entries, check the posts below this one.


Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Revenge Tale.

History: Because the genres of this movie are so vast, this section will, inevitably, be much shorter than the others (You know that makes sense!). Mysteries are basically those stories and/or movies in which something has occurred, and it is up to one or more characters (usually a detective of some sort) to figure it out. There is usually a plot twist at the end. The Thriller (sans Michael Jackson) is typically a fast-paced story focusing strongly on plot and action, moving forward at a quick yet suspenseful rate. The Revenge Tale is about as old as fiction itself, which usually involves either the protagonist or antagonist of the story doing something to exact vengeance on the other character.

These aren’t themes/genres that are specific to East Asia; however, when you mix the three together into one story that comes from the mind of an East Asian, you have the possibility of creating something amazing. And such was done in 2003 when South Korean director Chan-wook Park adapted to film a Manga by the name of Oldboy. It would become the second movie of his Revenge trilogy (the other two being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), though, in my opinion, it would turn out to be the greatest of the three. It was in talks for a long time about being remade in America, but that's been put on hold for now. Let's hope it stays that way (seriously, there's no way this could be Americanized and still stay true). So let’s get to it.

Oldboy (2003).

Country of Origin: South Korea.

Original Title: Oldboy.

Director: Chan-wook Park.

Oldboy starts as a mysterious man with messy hair is holding another man over the edge of a building by his tie. He wants to tell this man his story, and, thus, we flash back 15 years. Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a normal Korean businessman, is kidnapped and kept imprisoned in a bedroom. He has nothing to keep him entertained in the room except for a television. Here he learns that his wife was murdered and that Oh Dae-su himself, who had gone missing, was to blame for it. He teaches himself to fight over the years of captivity, as well as keeps time by tattooing himself. Then, after 15 years, he's released with a new suit and a cell phone. After telling the poor man on the roof all of this, he moves on. He meets the young and beautiful sushi chef Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), and they quickly fall in love. Oh Dae-su is then told by mysterious Woo-jin (Ji-tae Yu) that he has 5 days to find out why he had been captured in the first place or Mi-do will be killed.

This movie, quite frankly, is phenomenal. It’s one of my favorite foreign films. The story and concept is awesome, and it’s executed well. There really isn’t a time where anything drags. You wonder at first how these two characters could have fallen in love so quickly, but everything is perfectly explained and not left to be questioned (with one big exception, which I’ll get to in a minute) by the end of the movie.

There are some great shots in the movie, such as the huge 5 minute or so hallway brawl that is one continuous shot (it took about 17 takes and 3 days to get it right). They really went all out in the movie. There’s a scene where Oh Dae-su has to eat a live octopus. Do they CGI it? Nope. They actually made the actor eat a real live octopus. That’s hardcore.

The ending of the movie is great, as the plot twist is literally one of the most twisted I’ve ever seen. It’s intricate and detailed. Woo-jin is really not a guy I’d want to cross (The plot twist is actually on my list of best movie twists from way back). However, the one thing I do somewhat dislike about the movie (though it’s growing on me) is the ‘epilogue’ of the movie. It’s weird when movies have epilogues, especially when you can tell it has that epilogue feel to it (not important to the plot, but tacked on to give some more closure). The snow setting with the hypnotist is bizarre and almost doesn’t seem as if it fits with the rest of the movie, but I can see why it’s there and why it needed to be done. However, even though it’s there, everything is left incredibly ambiguous, so you still don’t know if it was real or not. Nevertheless, I love the part at the very end, when the movie is closing. It was a perfect way to end it, and it wouldn’t have been able to end it that way had they stopped right before the epilogue. So, in that sense, I’m happy it was there. Still, the scene isn’t even 5 minutes long in this 2 hour movie, so it doesn’t ruin anything for me.

So yeah, cool action, great shots, amazing story and concept (albeit twisted), and really fun and pumped music that really fit the scenes. Everything was great all around. I’d recommend this movie to just about anybody that doesn’t mind subtitles (as long as they aren’t close-minded and easily turned-off by certain things). I’m sure you’ve already guessed this rating.

Royale With Cheese

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