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Overall Rating
3.39

Awesome43.23%
Worth A Look: 14.19%
Average: 9.68%
Pretty Bad: 4.52%
Total Crap: 28.39%

10 reviews, 95 user ratings


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Oldboy (2005)
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by Mel Valentin

"South Korean cinema at its best. A must see."
5 stars

Based on a Japanese manga written by Minegishi Nobuaki and Tsuchiya Garon, Chan-Wook Park’s "Oldboy," an ultra-stylish, ultra-violent crime/revenge melodrama, won the Grand Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. To just call "Oldboy" a “crime/revenge melodrama,” however, does a disservice to Park’s singular accomplishment, an accomplishment driven by archetypal, mythic forces. From "Oldboy’s" opening moments, with the titular character, his face hidden in shadow, dangling another man from a skyscraper, Park’s film demands, and ultimately obtains, our (almost) complete sympathy for the central character, a man driven by vengeance for acts unknown by jailers unknown.

Park’s film follows the central character, Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) from married salaryman to hardened, unstable prisoner, to an unlikely parole and its violent aftermath. From the moment he exits a police station after being arrested for drunken behavior, Dae-su Oh is plunged into a Kafkaesque nightmare. Kidnapped by unknown assailants, he awakens in a cell. Dae-su Oh’s kidnappers have constructed a private prison for Dae-su Oh, with no possibility of parole. His jailers fail to inform him of his “crimes” or the intended length of his punishment. His cell has one, and only one connection, to the outside world, a television set. Dae-su Oh begins to keeps a prison journal, listing all the people he may wronged in his previous life. His jailers enter his room only after he’s been anesthetized (via knockout drug). Only the desire for vengeance keeps him alive and focused. He begins to train, awaiting the day of his release or escape.

After fifteen years of imprisonment, Dae-su Oh is released. Awakening on a grassy rooftop, Dae-su Oh encounters the man from the first scene, closing the temporal loop. In the first scene, Dae-su Oh appears to be torturing the man. Instead, we now learn that Dae-su Oh is, in fact, saving the man, who intends to commit suicide. A free man in new clothes, the slimmed-down Dae-su Oh finds himself drawn to a sushi restaurant, the “Mediterranean,” where he encounters Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), a sushi chef. He receives a phone call from his kidnapper, who vaguely alludes to a deadline, which expires in five days. In probably the most difficult scene in a film overflowing in difficult to watch scenes, Dae-su Oh orders something raw, something alive, to eat (no, no special effects were used in the scene). Passing out, he awakens in Mi-do’s apartment.

From there, Oldboy follows what appears to be conventional path, with Dae-su Oh discovering and tracking down clues that will inevitably lead him to the kidnapper (and why the kidnapper imprisoned him for fifteen years). Bent on vengeance, Dae-su Oh is less than sympathetic. He’s not above using brutalizing violence to obtain the answers he needs. But even as his desire for revenge seems to consume, Mi-do presents a tantalizing alternative, a new life free of violence. He, of course, chooses otherwise, or is it that someone else is choosing for him? Park litters Oldboy with clues that point to several different alternatives. Ultimately, however, the kidnapper answers Dae-su Oh’s questions, but not before asking another, unanticipated question, which in turn leads to a startling, surprisingly moving, if nonetheless violent denouement.

In what can be best described as a tautly paced, well-structured film, Park risks losing the audience only once, when he reveals the reason for Dae-su Oh’s imprisonment (we learn the identity of the kidnapper earlier in the film, but his motivations remain murky). Park sends Dae-su Oh into an explanatory flashback (with Dae-su Oh confronting an earlier version of himself). On first view, he reason for Dae-su Oh’s imprisonment appears banal, a minor slight turned into a life-transforming event (for the kidnapper), but Park teases out the consequences into something much larger, implicating both Dae-su Oh and the kidnapper, and ultimately, the kidnapper’s hidden plan, that creates what his kidnapper refers to as a “bigger prison” (i.e., the prison Dae-su Oh carries inside himself), a bitter dilemma that helps to elevate Oldboy above the level of a standard, if stylish, crime/revenge melodrama.

Stylewise, Park shows himself to be a technically accomplished, assured filmmaker, rarely indulging in style for style’s sake, but instead using style, e.g., a combination of cinematography, production/art design, and editing, to underscore the gradual unfolding of the narrative. Even when an “excess” of style is evident, as in a bravura fight scene inside a corridor (the camera flattens the action, tracking left to right), or in the vertical wipes used to indicate a change in location or even the passage of time, Park’s direction stays closely focused on the central character and the mystery surrounding him.

Where audiences might object, however, is in Park’s use (or overuse) of violence. Although most of the violence occurs off screen, there are several, eye-averting scenes, including one scene that plays out as a homage to "Marathon Man." Park may be, in fact, interested in pushing the extremes of violence for an underlying, moral purpose: to show, in graphic fashion, how violence, for both the victim or the perpetrator, corrodes the human personality, degrades identity, and ultimately, results in a loss of humanity. Significantly, Park ultimately gives Dae-su Oh a path out of violence, but only through the loss of memory.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10328&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/31/05 13:30:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/12/15 Christian Paulson Hammertime! 5 stars
5/09/12 Marty Bold twists, sick story with good acting. Some parts not needed for main plot. 4 stars
8/12/11 jiropan classic disturbing film............excellent plotlines......... 5 stars
1/26/11 Keireki Sorry, movie was shit. 1 stars
12/31/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Might be the most inventive, offbeat and imaginative movie of 2003 5 stars
9/22/10 stam JUST EPIC 5 stars
4/18/10 PAUL SHORTT TENSE, VIOLENT AND UNPLEASANT 2 stars
3/26/10 tina incest!!!!!! ewwww, i think they have lots of problems to film something like that 1 stars
2/22/10 Langano Brilliant. 5 stars
9/23/09 Blind n Retarded not set in tokyo. not a waitress. not his girlfriend. 4 stars
8/11/09 menten shocked... in a good way. one and only in the world. 5 stars
4/17/09 Total Crap I love asian extreme films, this has one of the sickest twists I've ever seen in a movie. 4 stars
8/05/08 Bnorm Dae Su was a beast he fucked up like 30 dudes with nothing but a hammer and his fists! 5 stars
5/16/08 Marlow You feel sick to stomach but there's no denying the movie is impressive 5 stars
5/30/07 Charles Tatum Sucks you right in, with an ending Americans would never dare do 5 stars
3/27/07 MP Bartley Crazy stuff, that strains plausibility by the end. Mostly grandly and vividly entertaining. 4 stars
2/13/07 Double M STYLISH, SICK and EASILY misunderstood. Choi gives 1 of the BEST performances EVER filmed. 5 stars
1/05/07 Eric P. Amazing revenge flick. 5 stars
12/05/06 Leslie i liked Sympathy for Lady Vengeance better. But Mr. Choi's acting is excellent!! 4 stars
10/13/06 Hoggydog STOP POSTING SPOILERs! COUGHtrigger happy. good movie. 5 stars
9/14/06 Stubby Expertly-crafted, but...ugh...that ending. 3 stars
8/20/06 Dyll This film was wicked. Brilliantly written. Don't believe the naysayers. 5 stars
5/25/06 malcolm classic revenge flick. i'm surprised, but glad, no american has redone this one 5 stars
4/25/06 Furuta One of the best films ever!!! 5 stars
3/11/06 Rick Yamakoshi A visual and moral assault on the senses. 5 stars
2/21/06 Agent Sands Truly unbelievable. One of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. 5 stars
1/20/06 ChappyX Park's SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is heads and shoulders above this letdown of a film. 1 stars
1/12/06 TriggerHappy That daughter fucking shit is just disturbing as hell... 1 stars
1/06/06 SlappytheFrog Amazing first hour, followed by a much-less-interesting one and a sucky ending. Meh. 3 stars
11/25/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME... YOU GUYS DON'T KNOW A GOOD FILM WHEN YOU SEE ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/23/05 hibbyX Will you people get off the hallway fight already?! It was NOT that great! Geeeeeeeeeez!! 2 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Brilliant. One sequence is jaw-dropping. Matrix what? 4 stars
11/21/05 skippy A few good scenes, a whole lotta crappy ones. No sale. 1 stars
11/21/05 Kibble I really didn't see what the big deal was, other than the incest and octopus-eating. 1 stars
11/06/05 Sin-Jin Smyth Yeah, TPS is right...excellently-made crap. 1 stars
11/02/05 mind dump Is vengeance worth it? Yes...therefore, this film is shit. 1 stars
11/02/05 shackle Dae su deserved vengeance and no only did he not get it...he got fucked over even worse!!!! 1 stars
10/29/05 JesseKnobs I agree...well-made but not very entertaining and really fucking sick. 1 stars
10/28/05 TPS stunningly made and truly aweful to watch 2 stars
10/26/05 Crumbcake Daughter fucking...ew. 1 stars
10/24/05 Suk-R-Punch Like a joke with no punchline? No...just like a joke. 1 stars
10/19/05 Gumbo I agree that this was totally pointless. The end was not only gross, but meaningless. 1 stars
10/17/05 Crapture GARBAGE, WORST REVENGE FILM EVER MADE...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
10/15/05 OodlesofOs The most pointless film ever made. Like a joke with no punchline, but another joke setup. 1 stars
10/14/05 gasp Shitty movie meets shitty movie meets dorky fanboys who love what others tell them to!!!!!! 1 stars
10/13/05 Agent Sands The Road Warrior meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Saw meets Fight Club. 5 stars
10/13/05 Bryant Gumby Best revenge film, despite the fact that no revenge was actually had by the main character? 1 stars
10/12/05 Johnny Cake ...and this is entertaining...how?? 1 stars
10/11/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, BEST REVENGE FILM EVER MADE...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/10/05 Biz-e This should have been called LAMEBOY. 1 stars
9/23/05 Jakub Watch AUDITION instead... 1 stars
9/19/05 mung He eats a squid and fucks his daughter...there, you don't need to see this now. Overrated! 1 stars
9/12/05 Bloodclot critics like dung 1 stars
9/07/05 Bitchum The hallway fight was great! It was everything else that licked twat... 1 stars
9/05/05 JubJub I think this is the most overrated movie of all-time. 1 stars
9/04/05 Tjalda L. Schiel What a disgusting mess. What is wrong with you critics? Ugh. 1 stars
9/03/05 Craven I really didn't see what the big god damn deal was. I thought it blew. 1 stars
9/02/05 Mailk By the end, you feel as bad as that poor squid. 1 stars
9/02/05 Edward This was like dining upon a big, massive elephant turd. 1 stars
9/01/05 unlimited this is the most schizophrenic movie i've ever seen...'couldn't decide what it wanted to be 2 stars
8/31/05 Vasquez do you guys really watch these movies or do you just praise them based on what others say? 1 stars
8/30/05 Brisbane Possibly the most unpleasant movie I've ever sat through. 1 stars
8/29/05 Blissful Johnny Chan-wook Park: Korea's answer to Tarantino...only without that pesky talent stuff. 1 stars
8/28/05 Jabberjaw The ending was just too disgusting for me...plus, I wanted Dae-su to triumph, but he didn't 1 stars
8/28/05 hicks You loved this because everyone told you to, lapdogs. 1 stars
8/28/05 Joker What was the big deal about THIS?!?!?! 1 stars
8/26/05 cam-ron As good as everyone says...only the opposite of that. 1 stars
8/26/05 Termite There are a ton of amazing Korean films worth seeing and discussing, this isn't one of them 1 stars
8/25/05 Copper No squid, no hallway fight, no incest = no one would even mention it. 1 stars
8/24/05 salamone All the people who recommended this to me got a punch in the neck the next morning. CRAP!! 1 stars
8/22/05 MC Serch People who say "Best Movie of the Year" obviously didn't see any other movies that year. 1 stars
8/22/05 Chumscrubber God, this film is the very definition of the word OVERRATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/20/05 marv If the point was "revenge is bad," why does the bad guy get away with HIS revenge? Huh???? 1 stars
8/20/05 Rever_Bear-Trap Possibly, one of the finest definitions of a psychological/revenge flick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
8/20/05 Cardigan Geez, what film were YOU all watching? Because I'd love to see THAT one, instead of this. 1 stars
8/19/05 Gaston POOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/19/05 JiJi What a lame, disappointing ending. Ruined the whole experience for me. 3 stars
7/05/05 Mike The sort of film that stays with you long after you watch it 5 stars
6/30/05 cristeen69 liked the film, thought it was good, especially ji tae, incetuous overtone 4 stars
6/18/05 aldo ..not much action..story is complex...the end is disgusting 2 stars
6/01/05 Scott Reynolds Get Hammered!! 4 stars
5/17/05 Shawn Borucki Nails you in the head with a hammer. Seems predictible until it changes on a drop of a dime 4 stars
4/15/05 Jozev I felt sick after watching it but I love the creativity and the cinematography. 5 stars
4/13/05 Junior LaRoche Best movie of 2004!!!! 5 stars
4/07/05 Roderick Cromar Too horrific to be called entertainment. That octopus..... 2 stars
3/29/05 KD Like drilling your skull AND getting shot in the balls 1 stars
3/22/05 The Mockingbird terriffic sick surprising complex movie 5 stars
3/13/05 Mike An instant classic. 5 stars
2/26/05 James Kiang Excellent, though the big revelation makes it difficult to blindly recommend. 4 stars
2/14/05 neonjazz Absolutely, undoubtably a masterpiece! 5 stars
2/13/05 Niklas Salonen Absolutely no Good 2 stars
2/09/05 Chris C Amazing Movie, loved it!! 5 stars
11/03/04 Derek Horrible! Extravagant! Superb! A masterpeace! 5 stars
9/19/04 John it was a great movie. Highly Recommended 5 stars
9/02/04 Gavin Peach Excellent! I love Chan Wook Park's films and this is another truimph! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010

UK
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