Friday, February 12, 2010

Oldboy

*Korea*Park Chan-wook*115m*2003*

Dai-su, an ordinary person, is kidnapped near a phone booth and taken to a well furnished apartment, where he is kept in captivity for fifteen years. Who has done it and why and for how long will this continue? Among the comforts he is provided is a TV set and he learns of his wife's murder and his own implication in it. As the years roll, he starts patiently digging through the wall, and as his escape channel nears completion, he is inexplicably freed and dropped in a street. He is able to identify his enemy, one Joo-Hwan, but the discovery of the cause for which he has been so severely punished forms the substance of the rest of this revenge drama, savage in the extremes of hatred it portrays. The two sworn enemies interlock their wills in a spiral of intensifying violence, often unendurable to see (tooth extraction with a claw hammer, sans anaesthesia).

These are larger than life characters and situations, which may justify the improbably convoluted and macabre(almost artistic) schemes of vengeance, since the two lives are almost symbiotic in their single reason for existing. Joo-Hwan's final lament, after he has accomplished his goal, is "What will I live for now?"

One can see in the film aspects of Shakespearean or Greek drama, martial arts movies or "Korean-horror". Whatever the case, the desire for revenge is a deep seated, consuming and insatiable human lust, whether one thinks of Shakespeare or 9/11, and the logic of an-eye-for-an-eye is not easy to refute, as history is a witness. In that sense, the improbabilities of plot are of secondary importance. The past century has shown us far more diabolical, cold, premeditated evil. The film is consistent in it's internal logic, and illuminates extreme's of the  human heart's capabilities for suffering.

No family flick, this. Also my first (not last) exposure to Korean cinema, courtesy blogger Seongyong Cho.
Roger Ebert's review
NY Times review
koreanfilm.org

9 comments:

Literary Dreamer said...

I saw another of Park Chan-wook's films (Americanized as Chan-wook Park) while in Japan, called Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. From what I understand, Old Dog is the first movie in his revenge trilogy, followed by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. The three movies deal with different characters, but all deal with the effect that revenge has on people.

Unfortunately, since I saw the movie in Japan, there was no English subtitle option, though English is spoken for a brief part of the film. If you liked Old Dog, you might want to check out those other two movies, as well.

Seongyong Cho said...

No, "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" is the first movie of trilogy. I have seen other two movies("Oldboy" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance"), but I've not watched this one yet.


I think it's time for me to revisit "Oldboy". It has been 6 years since I saw it. I remember well when I watched it in theater. And I remember well what other movie I watched it after this. "Love Actually". What a relief from emotional exhaustion in positive sense.

Ronak M Soni said...

I watched it a couple of days ago, it was beautiful in a sad, almost hopeless yet only almost so, way.
Like you so rightly point out, it always stays unflinchingly true to its own internal logic.

Nathanael Hood said...

You should definitely see "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance." Not only is it better than "Oldboy," it is easily his best film.

S. M. Rana said...

@Nathan: So Lady Vengeance it will have to be.

Nathanael Hood said...

If you want to watch "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" you can watch it on Netflix. It's being streamed for free for Netflix subscribers. In fact, most of Park Chan-wook's films are being streamed for free...

S. M. Rana said...

@Nathan: I need to work up an appetite for this one. It's one for a lazy late evening, and you are set to be pounded...by this mysterious Lady...

Nick Duval said...

I didn't like this film. It left me feeling burnt (definitely the intention), and I can take that, but not if what I give as a viewer isn't returned by the film itself.

There were standout developments and scenes, sure, like how the incest card is played and the fight scenes. But I can't say I found the "improbabilities of the plot of second importance" (as you said you did). They ruined the film for me. When a film is all converged upon an insanely coincidental thread (the entire film is governed by hypnosis, which is too much), it's hard to really take it seriously.

S. M. Rana said...

@Nick: You have a point but then finally it depends on the yardsticks you employ. Bollywood cinema for example has to be measured on it's own terms. The beautiful review by Manohla Dargis(I admire her writing)which I have linked below my own, expresses a view similar to yours. As for me I enjoy a K-horror movie once in a blue moon--it probably caters to the perverse in me.