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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14.1%
Average: 9.62%
Pretty Bad: 4.49%
Total Crap: 28.85%

10 reviews, 96 user ratings

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Oldboy (2005)
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by Elaine Perrone

"Mr. Vengeance delivers another mind-blower!"
5 stars

Like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance before it, director Park Chan-wook's Oldboy is a harrowing tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, a chilling look at the depths to which a human being can sink when his spirit is corroded by the grief of loss and a burning desire for revenge. By turns exhilarating and horrifying, blackly comic and repulsive, Oldboy is the tale of two such men, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) and Lee Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae), each of whom is instrumental in propelling his own and the other's soul on a long, sorrowful journey straight to hell.

The film opens with a riveting scene of only a few seconds duration, showing two unidentified men in a precipitous rooftop encounter. Eventually, the movie will loop back to that scene, but there will be no further mention made of it in this review.

Time and place quickly change, and we meet a quite-inebriated Dae-su, who has been hauled into a police station after a night of heavy drinking. After raising a ruckus, but before being thrown into a jail cell, Dae-su is bailed out by his friend Joo-hwan (Chi Dae-han). Stopping to make a phone call en route home, Joo-hwan turns around to find that Dae-su has disappeared, seemingly into thin air.

In the first of Oldboy's stunning ironies, it turns out that Dae-su has been abducted and is being held captive in a cell made to look like a seedy hotel room. Dae-su knows neither the identity of his captor nor the reason for his abduction. His only company in his bleak prison are a television, which becomes his "clock and his calendar"; the journals he writes, in which he tries to fathom the source of -- and reason for -- his predicament, and to atone for his past transgressions; and a purloined chopstick that becomes his instrument for tunneling through his prison.

To keep Dae-su from becoming too alert, his captors periodically pump gas into his room to put him into a stupor. In one of his soporific states, his jailers enter the room, draw blood from his arm, and take away a drinking glass that bears his fingerprints. Unaware, Dae-su learns only later, from his television, that his wife has been murdered and that he is the chief suspect, based upon blood and fingerprints found at the scene.

Resigned to his captivity, Dae-su unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Energized by finding himself alive, and with the help of exercise programs on his TV, he begins to toughen his body for the day of his release, or escape, which he vows will mark the day he vanquishes his unknown opponent.

Fifteen years from the date of his abduction, Dae-su is just as inexplicably released from captivity, still not knowing the reason for his imprisonment or the identity of his jailer, but vowing to "rip [his] whole body apart and no one will be able to find it anywhere because I'm going to chew it all down."

Wandering into a restaurant, where he meets and makes a connection with a lovely sushi chef, Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong), he seals his bond with himself by tearing the head off a live octopus and then collapsing.

Helped by Mi-do, and using his wits and his sense-memories, Dae-su identifies his abductor as Woo-jin, a wealthy industrialist with a long-forgotten connection to Dae-su’s distant past. Woo-jin introduces Dae-su to the next step of his nefarious "game" by challenging him to ferret out the reason for his captivity and the reason for his release. Woo-jin sets a five-day deadline and promises that on the Day of Destiny, July 5, someone will die -- either Woo-jin himself, by his own hand, if Dae-su solves the puzzle, or Mi-do, should Dae-su lose the game.

Based upon a Japanese manga, and scripted by a team (including director Park), Oldboy features a number of plot points that are never fully resolved. It also features a casting choice (Yu Ji-tae) that is at first puzzling for a reason I can't divulge because it would constitute a major spoiler. However, if viewed as an opera or a Shakespearean tragedy -- or the Japanese manga to which Oldboy owes its elements -- one can fairly easily overlook the physical disparity between actor and character, particularly when the acting is as brilliant as Yu's.

Equally brilliant is the acting of Choi Min-sik (Chihwaseon), who also performed his own eye-popping stunts. Credit for the hypnotic music that wafts throughout the film goes to composer Jo Yeong-wook, who crafted his original score using as a basis classic movie titles – among them, Jailhouse Rock, Room at the Top, Cries and Whispers, Breathless, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Point Blank, The Big Sleep, and The Last Waltz. Complementing Jo’s mesmerizing score is the Winter segment of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” which is used to wonderful effect.

Violent and disturbing, Oldboy is far from all tastes and is sure to be vilified by many -- among them, animal rights activists. For those with the heart to withstand the torment, Oldboy is yet another unforgettable and brilliant piece of cinema from Park Chan-wook.

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originally posted: 11/29/04 01:16:58
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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

4/23/18 Oliver Twist Totally overrated. Guesses the "surprise" after 10 minutes. Motive not believable. 1 stars
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
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 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, 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
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  25-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010



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