Old Boy
Oldboy is the best film from South Korea this year. Period.

It just won the Grand Prix in Cannes, and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 must be really great to have beat it for the Palme d’Or.

This is not for the squeamish, however. The Director/Writer Pak Chan-wook of “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002) showed with that film, that sentimental love stories with happy endings are not number one on his list of priorities. The violence here may not be as brutal as in “Sympathy…”, but it would still be enough to give Oldboy an NC-17 rating.

OH Dae-soo (Choi Min-shik) wakes up from a drinking spree in a small room with a TV and a locked door. On the TV he hears, that his wife has been murdered. Having to live with that and wondering, what became of their young daughter, he spends the next 15 years with this room as his cell. Without knowing why he is there. Just as he seems to have a chance of escape, he is set free with a wallet full of money and a mobile phone.

He receives a call on the mobile, and is asked by an unknown man to figure out, why he was jailed. With the help of a young waitress, Mido (Kang Hye-jeong), he tries to find the caller. Succeeding in finding him (Yu Ji-tae), his jailer proposes a game: If Dae-soo can find out, why he was jailed, his jailer will kill himself – if not, he will kill Mido. Dae-soo gets five days to find out.

That’s the basic storyline. Then you have the physical violence. The sex. The psychological violence – and that’s the creepy part. Why was this done? Keep this bit of dialog in mind: “Be it a grain of sand or rock in the water – they sink the same”. What do you have to do to deserve 15 years in a cell? And are those 15 years the only consequences? The answer is scary – but could be true.

This film is not for everyone, though. The violence: Teeth being extracted with a hammer – drawn out, not smashed. The gross-out effect: Dae-soo eating a live octopus – head first, with the suckered arms squirming all over his face. And finally, the psychological violence, which cannot be revealed here, but which is by far the worst.

On top of all that, the film is magnificently done. I’ll use a part of a review by Kyu Hyun Kim (koreanfilm.org) to describe that: “….Unwatchably ugly and breathtakingly beautiful, gut-wrenching and delicate, heartbreakingly emotional and coldly manipulative, mind-bogglingly entertaining and almost arrogantly artistic, Old Boy is a mass of contradictions that nonetheless coheres as a whole. … Old Boy is without doubt the most purely cinematic (both in form and content) piece of work, the truest motion picture, released in South Korea this year”.

If you want to see Korean filmmaking at its absolute best – watch this one.
Uffe Stegmann
June 1, 2004

Original Title
South Korea
Pak Chan-wook
- If you were me (2003)
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
- Joint Security Area (2000)
Choi Min-shik
- Chihwaseon (2002)
- Failan (2001)
- Happy End (1999)
- Swiri (1999)
- The Quiet Family (1998)
Yu Ji-tae
- Woman is the Future of Man (2004)
- Natural City (2003)
- Into the Mirror (2003)
- One Fine Spring Day (2001)
- Ditto (2000)
- Attack the Gas Station (1999)
Kang Hye-jeong
- Nabi (2001)
DVD Availability
Available on DVD from YesAsia: