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    A dish best served "Old"

    Park Chanwook's revenge tale "Oldboy" is a mind-torturing, paranoia-driven adventure through the possibilities of modern filmmaking.


    Enough ordinary civilians are catching on to Korean cinema that "Old Boy" has actually opened in a mass-audience 25-plex on 42nd Street, which is good for Korean cinema but bad for the rest of us. The night I saw it, three different couples were talking out loud as the movie started. But before I could give them the traditional New York "Shut the Fuck Up," the movie shut them the fuck up for me. For a foreign film, "Old Boy" is no genteel arthouse tone poem — it's a dark vision unleashed with such cinematic ferocity that you can't look away. And forget about chatting with your neighbor.

    Directed by: Park Chanwook.
    Written by: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Chun-hyeong, Lim Joon-hyung, Park Chan-wook.
    Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Ji Dae-han, Oh Dal-su, Kim Byeong-ok, Lee Seung-Shin, Yun Jin-seo, Lee Dae-yeon, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Ahn Yeon-suk, Oo Il-han.
    Cinematography: Jeong Jeong-hun.
    Edited by: Kim Sang-Beom.
    In Korean with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Philadelphia Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

    • Official festival site

    • Clean
    • Crying Out Love in the Center of the World
    • Evilenko
    • Frozen

    • Machuca
    • Or (My Treasure)
    • Winter Solstice
    • Woman Is the Future of Man
    Park Chanwook has outdone his previous revenge flick, the disturbing enough "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," with a positively maniacal follow-up. As in the previous film, the story hinges on a wronged man's righteous quest to find and kill his oppressor; but while the first film was, in a way, tidy, driven by honor and inevitability, this one is grimy and chaotic, driven by paranoia.

    It's not even clear who is taking — or deserves — his revenge. Is it Oh Dae-Su, the rowdy, drunk and seemingly unexceptional businessman who vanishes off the street one night right in front of a police station, or is it the shadowy tycoon who uses his wealth to confine Oh in a private prison cell for 15 years before mysteriously springing him loose into the world?

    Oh's time in his bizarre hotel-like room is a surreal, Cronenberg-style nightmare, with hallucinations, manipulations, and creepy bugs. Our man spends his days digging tunnels with a chopstick, training himself in martial arts against an imaginary opponent, and keeping up with the outside world via TV. "Television is your clock and calendar," he tells himself. "It's your school, your home, your church, your friend and your lover." Sometimes poison gas seeps through the vents and puts him to sleep when his captors want to make changes to the cell or cut his hair. And then one day the gas blows in and, just like that, Oh wakes up in a grassy field that's not a grassy field.

    Having lost 15 years of his life, Oh sets about to find his tormentor and make him pay. But no matter how close he thinks he's getting, his prey turns out to be way ahead of him. When a cell phone reaches him through a funny piece of movie magic, the voice on the other end tells Oh, "I'm sort of a scholar, and my subject is you. I'm an expert on Oh Dae-Su."

    From here on out, Oh and his mysterious nemesis are locked in a war of fists and knives, yes, but more frequently of unseen strings pulled and subtle clues extracted. It's a brutal, smart and darkly funny cinematic assault in which every scene plays tricks on our eyes and toys with our expectations. A stunning opening scene in which a man dressed like a mobster hangs another man over a ledge by his tie looks very different when it reoccurs later in the film. An invasion of the bad guys' lair (unearthed by eating gyouza from every fast-food joint in Seoul) turns into a comically graceless one-take martial-arts slugfest. If this one scene were turned into a movie of its own, it would be called "Flailing Tiger, Stumbling Dragon." This kind of filmmaking — crackling with energy and electric with imagination — is what Quentin Tarantino aspires to on his best day, and what an unsung cabal of Korean directors has been delivering for years now.

    Director Park, already recognizable as a major talent in his previous films, is an absolute master of the medium in "Old Boy." There's much, much more to talk about in this spectacular movie, but why give it all away? Sometimes you have to shut the fuck up and enjoy the show.

    APRIL 22, 2005

    Reader comments on Oldboy:

  • Park Chan Wook is a true genius !!!   from Lalit Rao, Aug 20, 2005
  • Re: Park Chan Wook is a true genius !!!   from Charos, Dec 12, 2010
  • [no subject]   from chinswa, Dec 12, 2007
  • [no subject]   from , May 6, 2009

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