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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

OLDBOY (2003) -- Movie Review by Porfle

OLDBOY (2003) is very different from SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and might be seen as a stylistic evolution for Korean director Park Chan-wook.

Where the first film in his celebrated "vengeance trilogy" was more lean and straightforward, OLDBOY is an explosion of cinematic expression that almost overwhelms the viewer with its aggressive intensity. SYMPATHY invites us to sit back and gaze attentively at characters gradually sliding into inevitable ruin; OLDBOY straps us in and takes us on a wildly disorienting bumper-car ride.

Min-sik Choi gives a brilliant, intense performance as Dae-su Oh, a workaday family man who, after drunkenly celebrating his young daughter's birthday, suddenly wakes up in a motel room-like prison cell where he will spend the next fifteen years. During that time, his wife is murdered and the crime scene is doctored to make him the suspect, while his daughter is placed in foster care. He learns of this on television, which is his only link to the outside world.

After his release back into a world that is now strange to him, Dae-su is understandably obsessed with finding out who imprisoned him and why. Thus begins a mysterious and violent odyssey that eventually takes him back to a single indiscretion in his youth which ignited a chain reaction of tragedy for the person now devoted to punishing him.

Dae-su is aided in his quest by a sympathetic young sushi chef named Mido (the very cute Hye-jeong Kang), who becomes his lover and offers much-needed moral support and solace. As he gradually gets closer to the shocking truth, he finds that prison was only the beginning of a diabolical web of torment devised for him by his unknown nemesis.

In some ways, the incarceration has a beneficial effect on Dae-su Oh. Over the long years he builds his physique, becomes a fierce boxer by banging his fists against a figure he's drawn on the wall, hones his instincts and willpower, and develops the patience and determination of a caged animal. He also divests himself of the frivolity and childishness his character displays when we first meet him, becoming a ruthless force to be reckoned with.

His repressed rage later allows him to take on well over a dozen oppenents in a cramped hallway during what I feel is the film's most astounding sequence. Most of this furious fight is done in one incredible take with the camera slowly dollying along with the actors as they perform a dazzling series of choreographed fight moves with bone-crushing realism. (This surely ranks among the greatest long takes ever filmed.) Wielding a claw hammer and with a knife protruding from his back, Dae-su becomes one of the most thrilling action heroes in recent memory in a balls-out brawl that eschews fancy moves or wirework of any kind.

Violence punctuates the film at several points--a man is stabbed to death with a broken DVD, another has his teeth yanked out one by one, people are driven to suicide--culminating in an extended sequence within the mystery man's spacious penthouse suite which becomes an escalating ordeal of physical and emotional devastation. Each shot is carefully devised by Park for maximum effect as Min-sik Choi's performance reaches a peak that is stunning.

Dense, complex storytelling that is anything but light viewing, OLDBOY demands viewer involvement on a much higher level than the usual revenge flick. Like SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, the complicated story presents two identifiable points of view in a conflict that goes beyond the usual heroes and villains and refuses to offer easy or clear-cut resolutions.

Park Chan-wook's command over the language of film enables him to express all of this visually to a degree that's endlessly impressive. "They say you can't catch two rabbits at once," he reflects on his accomplishment. "I feel like we caught two rabbits, a deer, an otter, a badger, and many other animals."

Read our full review of Palisade Tartan Asia Extreme's eight-disc DVD set THE VENGEANCE TRILOGY

Read our review of LADY VENGEANCE


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