If you haven't seen this movie yet, and plan on seeing it, then please do not read this review.
There are many many spoilers since I will be attempting to decipher some of the puzzles that are in the movie.
You have been warned.
I finally watched OLDBOY last week on DVD after much deliberation. I was planning on watching this movie in the theatre for the first time, but after reading an interview with Director Park Chan Wook, I changed my mind and bought the DVD.
Director Park stated that he meant for this movie to be watched over and over and he tailored it so that DVD viewers would have the optimum experience.
With that being said, I still wish I saw it in the theatre first. I felt that the initial cinematic experience would have been much more powerful. But I digress.
As many of you know, this is the second of the Vengeance trilogy movies from Park Chan Wook, the first being the amazing SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. While SFMV concentrated on what happens when the human need for vengeance and revenge spins tragically out of control, OLD BOY is about what happens when revenge and vengeance festers and is coldly controlled and planned.
Choi Min Shik plays the character of Oh Daesu, a man who is imprisoned in a room for 15 years with no human contact for no apparent reason. Oh Daesu is not a good man...when we first meet him, he is crudely and loudly drunk, but when we see the horror of his imprisonment, we have to wonder...what did this man do to deserve such prolonged torture? What was his crime?
We find out only towards the end that the crime he committed was one which he was not even aware of. A crime that seems so relatively minor that he has forgotten what happened and only remembers when reminded.
What follows is a revenge so terrible and plotted out that it will make you shake.
Before I plunge into the analysis of this film, I wanted to discuss the good and bad points.
This film marks the full stylistic peak of Park Chan Wook. Music, the grainy gritty film stock, the camera work all work together in total symbiosis. There will be sequences that will make you gasp...such as the nearly 3 minute fight sequence where Oh Daesu takes down what seems to be a 100 henchmen with a claw hammer. This scene was done in ONE long continuous take with no cuts.
The music is a mix of classical dirges and electronica that soar along with the characters emotions.
But what really made OLDBOY stand out for me is the performance by Choi Min Shik. He is the Korean Toshiro Mifune. He taps into emotions that are truly frightening. It is a riveting, commanding, brutal and painful to watch performance. You will feel every bit if agony he goes through and when the ultimate revenge is revealed to him, you will cringe at his reaction and pray for his absolution.
However, I felt that at times, there was a bit too much style-over-substance. There was a definite cool factor in it, but it left me strangely empty...it ran a BIT too long for me also.
Which brings me to the following questions. I'd love to hear your opinions and questions if you have seen the movie...I'll provide my own theories.
1- Was the Monster exorcised at the end?
A: I am not sure. It's very very ambiguous what happens with the hypnotist. I want to think that Oh Daesu is redeemed, but perhaps he isn't and that he has to now endure the consequences of his unwitting actions.
2- Why is Yu Ji Tae's character so young? Isn't he supposed to be near Oh Daesu's age?
A: My theory is that Lee Woojin stopped aging after the death of his sister, the only person who made him feel alive. Only when he was consumed with his revenge on Oh Daesu does he come alive again. Thus, if Sooah died when he was 14 or 15, and you add the 15 years of imprisonment for Oh DaeSu, he is 30 years old. Which is how old he looks.
3- Who is the man with the dog in the beginning of the film? What does he represent?
A: I think that the man after being released from his imprisonment, had nothing left to live for. He lost his will to find out who imprisoned him. Oh Daesu on the other hand, is fixated on revenge.
4- Who is the real Old Boy?
A: I personally think that the Old Boy refers to Lee Woojin. Please see my above theory on his age to understand why.
5- Will Mido ever know what happened?
A: I am guessing not. I think that is the burden Oh Daesu will have to live with if the Monster is still in him.
All in all, I really liked this film. For my money, I thought SFMV was the better film.
But this one is definitely worth watching. I can't wait to see the last film in the trilogy.
***1/2 out of *****
BTW...you can order a special edition of OLDBOY on amazon.com. It comes in a commemorative tin with volume 1 of the translated manga, a film cel and 3 disks...with all documentary materials subtitled in English. VERY good bargain. I just got mine today and it looks great.