Movie #72 2022: Oldboy (2003)

Can you believe this movie has been sitting in my DVD collection for 18 months and I only watched it last week? Even though I knew that it is critically acclaimed across the globe and even though I almost always love every Korean movie that I see, I didn’t get round to it until now. And what a shame that is, because this is a movie that you’ll remember forever.

Without wanting to disclose spoilers, Oldboy is the second film in Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s so-called ‘Vengeance Trilogy’. As with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (which I enjoyed less than the average critic, apparently), themes of revenge, ethics, and salvation run rife through it. To put things as briefly as possible, Oldboy sees businessman Oh Dae-su drugged, kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years with no explanation why. When he is finally released, he takes it upon himself to find and seek revenge on his captors.

Ummm, okay. There’s only one way to start this: has anyone checked on Park Chan-wook? Because I’d actually hate to know where the fuck he gets these ideas from… 

Whilst The Handmaiden continues to be my favourite movie of his, it is apparent now why everyone loves Oldboy so much. Yes, it is hauntingly dark and twisted, but it is also deeply original and multi-faceted in the way the plot is constructed and presented. Even though it lasts a solid two hours, it feels more like 40 minutes; once you’re in, you can’t take your eyes off it. 

I won’t deny that I was a little weary at first, especially since the original footage is really quite raw and unpolished. (Though it has now been remastered, I somehow got my hands on a two-disc special edition copy of the DVD, which is the on I watched.) However, it’s easy to become accustomed to that when the material is so gripping. The plot twist alone is both gruesome yet brilliant, yet even before this revelation there’s so much to take in and digest that it becomes impossible not to give all of your attention to it. This is storytelling at its weird, wonderful best. 

There are so many great things going on here that it makes it difficult to summarise everything in one review. However I will say that everything from the music to the cinematography to the performances is outstanding. And you’ve already heard how I feel about the plot and it’s accompanying script so…

Despite all of this, I’m hesitant to give Oldboy five Qs purely because I still prefer The Handmaiden (although I didn’t think that was quite perfect either). Even so, this is a very, very good film and a must-see for any cinephile.

Oldboy is available to rent on Amazon and the Google Play Store for a minuscule £1.99.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½

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