Psychologically engaging, visually stunning, and entirely intriguing are only a few adverbial-participle combinations that one can use to describe Chan-Wook Park’s 2003 film Oldboy, the second in his vengence trilogy (preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengence (2002) and followed by Sympathy for Lady Vengence (2005)). Currently ranked 93rd on IMdB’s top 250, Oldboy contains very few plot elements that can be discussed without spoiling the film’s unexpected climax. After a drunken night that leads to a 15 year imprisonment, middle-class businessman Oh Dae-Su (whose name means “gets along with everyone” played by Min-Sik Choi), vows vengeance upon his unknown captor, who offered no explanation of his imprisonment. This must suffice as the only synopsis.
In this screenshot, the audience receives the first hint of the captor during a cell phone call while dining at a sushi bar. With this call, Oh Dae-su begins his hunt. This scene is truly the birth of the intrigue, for Oh Dae-su asks the same questions the audience does: Why was he imprisoned? Who kidnapped Oh Dae-su? What did he do to deserve 15 years of solitary confinement? All of these questions are answered slowly and painfully, making Oldboy an ingenious, pulsing thriller with a sick and sly sense of humor. It weaves between a sheer enjoyment of the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes and an almost tortuous emotional trauma, which makes for an ultmately unforgettable watch.
Unfortunately, the film recently expired off of NetFlix Instant Watch, but is widely available on DVD. Be sure to pick up a subtitled version, as the dubbing leaves something to be desired.
Guy Stridsigne and Britta R. Moline 10/8/2011