One of the most shocking & disturbing tales of revenge you’ll ever see, Oldboy is not only a genre-defining cinema but arguably the finest film that South Korean film industry has offered us so far. Raising the bar to a new level & setting very high standards for revenge-thrillers to follow, Oldboy is director Park Chan-wook’s second instalment of his Vengeance Trilogy, preceded by Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance & succeeded by Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. But apart from sharing the central theme of vengeance, everything else about Oldboy is different from the other two chapters of this trilogy as it dares to & tears through the confines of its genre and also succeeds as an exhilarating work of cinematic art.
Based loosely on the Japanese manga of the same name, Oldboy tells the story of one Oh Dae-su, who is abducted on the night of his young daughter’s birthday & is held captive in an apartment prison for 15 years, without any clue of why he is there & who has imprisoned him, and is later freed in the same inexplicable manner. The rest of the film is about Oh Dae-su trying to uncover the identity & motives of his captor to exact revenge, only to discover that the entire set of events has been a masterly executed web of conspiracy from the very beginning and that his prison was indeed a safer place compared to what his kidnapper has in store for him. The movie also covers the themes of loss, pain & revenge in an uncompromising manner while depicting the way vengeance consumes the human soul.
Park Chan-wook is one of the most acclaimed & popular Asian filmmakers in cinema industry today and Oldboy remains the best work of his career, so far. Ingeniously written & directed from start to finish, Chan-wook skilfully layers the plot with clever twists & extreme violence that slowly unravels its mysteries to give the viewers a cinematic jolt they’ll have a hard time forgetting. The whole film is exquisitely & meticulously photographed with some inventiveness in the cinematography department; my favourite moment being the single long take of the corridor fight scene. Editing steadily paces the story while also adding a grim & tense mood into the film’s already mysterious plot plus its background score has a vintage feel and is simply heartwarming & heartbreaking at the same time.
Coming to the acting department, there are three staggering performances in the film. The characters are nicely developed in the script but the performances render it even more convincingly on the film canvas. Putting up a strong & show-stealing characterization of Oh Dae-su, Choi Min-sik is absolutely exuberant & merciless in his role & easily overshadows everyone else in the film. His flawless expressions in the final scene before credits alone sums up everything about his character & also adds the ambiguity to the film’s ending. Next up is Yoo Ji-tae, who plays Lee Woo-jin, the man responsible for Dae-su’s imprisonment, & does a very impressive job with his controlled execution. Finally we have Kang Haye-jung playing Mi-do, Dae-su’s love interest & her character plays a vital role in the unpredictable & unexpected outcome of this film.
In spite of being a wildly entertaining feature & brimming with fresh style, creativity & imagination, Oldboy isn’t a movie for everyone & certainly not for the squeamish. Many scenes early in the film are enough to throw off some viewers but the most damaging element is its underlying secrets, which slowly unravels itself & goes beyond vengeance in the end plus the deliberately ambiguous ending raises some moral questions of its own. On an overall scale, Oldboy is a disturbing, unsettling & violent cinema from South Korea that will traumatize most of its viewers with its harrowing & sickening depiction of revenge but then, there is also no denying that with its remarkable blend of impeccable direction, clever screenplay, arresting photography, tight editing, amazing performances & classic score, it’s also one of the greatest films ever made. A haunting masterpiece. Strongly recommended.