When it was first released back in 2003 Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy hit audiences like a hammer. Forget Spike Lee’s 2013 US remake with Josh Brolin, this South Korean film is the only version of Oldboy that needs to be seen. More importantly, it’s the type of film that you need to go into cold. Ice cold. Don’t read the IMDB page or have a sneaky look at Wikipedia, the less you know about it the better. Don’t even be tempted to peek. Think of the film as Christmas morning – and looking around for presents before the big day will only ruin the surprise.
The bare bones of the plot sees Choi Min-sik’s Oh Dae-su kidnapped and locked-up in mysterious prison for 15 years. He knows no reason why, but he spends his time honing his fighting kills and planning to escape. He finally breaks-out and he sets out to track down his daughter and seek revenge on those who incarcerated him.
That’s pretty much all you need to know about Oldboy going in. However, if you have ever seen any film by Park Chan-wook then you know that there will be much more to proceedings than that simple synopsis. Chan-wook films like Thirst and The Handmaiden offer up mysterious delights, revealing themselves at a well defined and carefully honed pace. Chan-wook’s films are also incredibly dark, delving into areas where lesser filmmakers would never venture. Oldboy ticks all of these boxes.
Oldboy’s intense corridor fight sequence is without a doubt the stand-out moment in the film (probably, except for..well..never mind). It’s a blisteringly intense cacophony of violence that’s brilliantly choreographed and wonderfully staged in one shot. It’s been oft-imitated since 2003, but never bettered. The phrase ‘hammer time’ will take on a whole new meaning for you.
Choi Min-sik’s performance is a top-notch bit of acting, a role that merges emotion and physicality. He goes from bumbling drunk in the opening to avenger through the course of the film, hitting many shades of colour as the film unspools. Throw in Chung Chung-hoon’s highly textured cinematography and you have world cinema at its finest.
To say anything else about Oldboy would verge on criminal. It’s a wonderfully constructed piece of cinema by a director who knows how to construct great cinema. This is likely Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece. If you’ve never seen it, then what’s stopping you? If you have, then why not go and watch it again?