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read another review of: Oldboy
 
 
February 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Oldboy
cast: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Dae-han Li, Dal-su Oh and Byeong-ok Kim

director: Park Chan-wook

115 minutes (18) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Dae-su Oh is a violent, feckless drunk, a school bully released into the world with the same belief that he's superior to everyone else in the world and readiness to enforce that with his fists that got him through school. He's not an evil man, just not a very good one and seems content to stay that way. Until, one night he's gassed and wakes up in a strange room. He has the same meal every day, is gassed unconscious every day and his only company is the television. He has no idea why he's there, what he's done or if he'll be let out. Until, 15 years after his capture, he's released and told that unless he can discover the reason for his incarceration, Mi-do, a young girl who he meets on release, will die.

What follows forms not only the middle third of the director's 'Vengeance' series (book-ended by Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance respectively) but also one of the most original, intelligent and brutal thrillers of the last 20 years. Park Chan-wook has crafted a story that is intensely complicated, blackly comedic and unflinchingly violent, a story that centres on one man and the impossibility of redemption as well as the impact that has on those around him.

At the centre of this, Min-sik Choi, turns in a superlative performance. He's dishevelled, laconic and quietly insane, a man cut out of a society he barely knew over a decade previously who finds himself fascinated and horrified by what he sees by turns. It's a performance laced with humour, intellect and casual physical authority that must surely rank as one of the most impressive in years. There's one sequence in particular, which sees him fight his way through a seemingly endless corridor of thugs using only his fists and a hammer that is relentless, brutal and stamps his authority on the film. Horrifically damaged and barely able to speak, he not only faces off against all of them but when confronted by an elevator of still more simply smiles. A moment later, he emerges from the elevator, even more damaged and the only person standing.

However, where the central performances are impressive, Oldboy's real merits lie in its script and direction. The aforementioned corridor fight aside, there are several moments of such exuberance and intelligence that you can't help but be swept along by them. The final flashback that reveals the reason for the nightmarish events of the film is a particular standout, horrifying, tragic and utterly compelling by turns. Likewise, the moment where Dae-su and Mi-do are in bed, gassed, with the villain standing over them in a gasmask is impossible to ignore and chilling to watch.

Make no mistake, Oldboy is about as violent and unpleasant as they come and even horror fans with a strong stomach will find some sections difficult to watch. However, get past that and what you have is a film that is relentlessly violent, intelligent, utterly unlike anything you've seen before, and unmissable for those with the constitution for it.

The bonus disc contains behind-the-scenes featurettes and a good commentary track.
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