Oh Daesu is a loser. A puny man who misses his daughter’s birthday to get drunk and cheat on his wife. His name might mean “getting along with people”, but he’s still considered an asshole who “talks too much” by most.
One day he’s abducted and put into a cell, where he will spend the next 15 years. He’s fed, cleaned, shaved and provided with a TV that becomes his “clock and calendar”, his “school, home, church, friend and lover”. But the isolation is still maddening, especially considering that his captors never even told him why he’s held prisoner!
WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY???
Punching the walls until his knuckles bleed (like the jailed Jake LaMotta at the end of “Raging Bull”), crudely marking the passage of time into his flesh, raking his brain to think of who might hate him enough to do this, Oh Daesu somehow gets through the years. And then he’s released, as inexplicably as he was captured.
Perfect use of narration, music and editing make for riveting build-up, so when Oh Daesu gets out we’re psyched for major bloody satisfaction. “Can imaginary training for 15 years be put to use? It can.” About halfway into the film, we’re treated to one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen, a ruthless brawl between Oh Daesu and a dozen dudes armed with bats and knives, all filmed in a single continuing shot that goes on for more than two minutes.
As endlessly cool as that sequence is, it’s not the film’s high point and neither are the extreme bits involving things like a live squid (!), a hammer or scissors. If that was all “Oldboy” had to offer, it would still add up to a pretty damn good movie, an exercise in style somewhere between Wong Kar-Wai and Takashi Miike; half art film, half exploitation flick.
As we progressively realize, though, Park Chan-wook is actually after something more akin to the work of David Fincher. A little like The Game (odd happenings, strangers that do and give stuff to the protagonist), and a little like Se7en (sadistic “punishments”, a mysterious box ), and…
But I must stop. “Oldboy” is a mind-fuck of epic proportions; the least you know about if beforehand the better. Just know that it’s brilliantly crafted, with gut-wrenching performances and a multi-layered story that covers action, comedy, horror, tragedy, surrealism, even romance and eroticism. * shudders * (I almost threw up just typing this – don’t ask)
This is that rare film that gets better every time you see it. Seriously: the first thing I did after it ended was watch it again, something very rare for me (off the top of my head, this also happened with Fight Club, Abre los ojos and Aguirre, the Wrath of God). “Oldboy” was released in South Korea in 2003, it won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes in 2004, and it’s getting a limited release in the United States on March 29th, 2005. I’m not sure when it will reach Montreal, but don’t miss it when it does. You won’t forget it anytime soon.