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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)
[] Buy posters from this movie
by David Cornelius

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone."
5 stars

Some movies are done in by their pre-release hype, while others rise above it. “Oldboy,” which arrives in the U.S. after months of steamy anticipation stoked by rabid word of mouth and a positive buzz most movies would kill to get, is one of the latter. Rather than be disappointed, in fact, I found that the movie I had been itching to see for a long, long time was, in fact, even better than I had heard. Sometimes movie fans get lucky like this.

The film marks the official arrival of director Park Chan-wook as an internationally important filmmaker. His previous works, such as “JSA” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” were hits in their own right in various corners, but the success of “Oldboy” - both with audiences (it won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival) and as a film - lifts Park to a whole other level. This is a breakthrough work on the level of “Jaws” or “Pulp Fiction.”

“Oldboy,” adapted from the Japanese manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, gets transplanted to South Korea, where the story finds drunkard Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) - whose name, he tells us while making a nasty scene in a local police station, means “getting along with people” - kidnapped and imprisoned in a mysterious apartment complex/prison. With nobody telling him why he’s there, he’s left to pass the time, fifteen years of it. Once he’s suddenly and unexpectedly released, he does what he can to find his captors and seek retribution, in blood.

What we get here is a revenge fantasy, but not a pat one. Park and company make no bones about the lack of perfection in their protagonist, and so they deliver a story that’s carefully mixed with the pessimism of a solid film noir; imagine, if you will, a “Kill Bill” in which Uma Thurman gets her ass kicked every few scenes. Yes, things will go right for Oh Dae-su, but then things will go horribly wrong.

The interesting thing about “Oldboy” (well, one of them, anyway) is how it lets its plot be more than merely a quick way to get the audience from one action set piece to another. A movie like this could have easily been a cheap actioner designed for instant thrills, and yet the writers (five of them get screen credit, although not once does this feel like a screenplay done by committee) offer up a clever, richly detailed mystery, a series of thoroughly compelling characters, and above all, a captivating study of a man teetering on the brink of sanity.

There’s something special in Choi’s performance as Oh Dae-su. The fifteen years of solitude have broken his mind, and no matter how composed he may appear, no matter how collected he manages to become in order to uncover the plot, he’s still a raging mess inside. Watch how Choi handles this, allowing his performance to be one that’s always right on the edge. Choi gives us a man ready to explode at any moment - which works wonders, since once he does explode, in those jaw-dropping scenes of no-holds-barred violence, it becomes impossible to take our eyes off the guy.

And everything we get throughout the film, from the calm, collected moments to the deadly outbursts, all lead up to one extraordinary finish, a scene that requires Choi to go all over the map in terms of emotion and sanity. To say Choi gets it just right would be an understatement - these are the kinds of rare performances that come out of nowhere and knock you out.

(Well, to say it “comes out of nowhere” may be a misnomer: Choi provided brilliant turns in Korean efforts such as “Shiri” and “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War.” So maybe I should’ve seen this coming. Still, his work here tops everything, an unexpected powerhouse performance that will forever be lodged in my memory.)

Balancing out Choi is Yu Ji-tae, who plays the enigmatic villain. The best movie baddies are the ones that are calm, cool, collected, and Yu fits the bill. More than anyone else in the supporting cast (of which there are many fine performances), Yu sticks in one’s mind. His eerily detached persona only makes you want to see more of him. It’s a performance that understands the seduction of evil.

Of course, topping them all, the real star here is Park, whose directorial prowess is truly what elevates “Oldboy” into something far above your average revenge flick. If nothing else at all, watch for the movie’s key sequence: a long tracking shot in which the camera, watching from the side, slowly follows Oh Dae-su up and down a seemingly endless corridor as he takes on what seems like hundreds of enemies. I have never seen a fight scene like this in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of fight scenes. The sheer endlessness of it is enough to make it memorable (those bad guys just keep coming and coming and coming out of nowhere, and just when you think Oh Dae-su’s done for, he keeps going), yet the fact that Park is able to shoot this in just one take, no cutaways, yet keep everything looking disturbingly real, well, that’s impressive filmmaking of the highest order. The realness of it all digs under the skin, and Park refuses to look away.

In fact, Park rarely looks away during all the scenes of intense violence - although, to be fair, there were a few scenes that I’m unable to report what was on screen at all, since I had to cover my eyes out of cringe reflex. “Oldboy” is definitely not for the squeamish, what with its scenes of teeth extraction via claw hammer, of tongue removal via scissors, of… well, perhaps I’ve said too much already, and I’m sorry if this interrupted your dinner.

“Oldboy” is violent, to be sure. But it is also brilliant. It is a grand opera of blood and vengeance, so far over the top that the top can’t even be seen anymore, yet all so skillfully handled that the audience is drawn into the action, not drawn away from it. The buzz was right: “Oldboy” confirms Park as one of the best filmmakers working today.

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originally posted: 07/17/05 07:59:21
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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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