Oldboy [올드보이] (2003)
Starring Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung, Ji Dae-han, Kim Byeong-ok, Oh Tae-kyung, Yoo Yeon-seok, Woo Il-han, Yoon Jin-seo, Oh Dal-su
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Expectations: Very high.
I know I’m late to the party, but Oldboy is incredible, y’all. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read another word. I’m going to stay away from spoilers, but still… watch the film knowing as little as possible about it. I managed to avoid virtually all spoilers (except for knowing the vague circumstances of a specific scene), and it served me very well. Oldboy is first and foremost a mystery film, so a good portion of the joy derived from watching it is in trying to piece together what’s going on and why.
Oldboy begins on a rooftop. A man with long, crazy hair holds onto the tie of another man who is hanging over the edge of the roof and clutching a white dog. The first man tells the other that he wants to tell him his story and the film begins in earnest. We meet the long-haired man when he was somewhat younger, and he is drunk out of his mind. He is loud-mouthed, garrulous and uncaring for those around him. As with any story that begins in the future and flashes back, we are compelled to wonder how this man became the man we met on the rooftop.
This drives the mystery of the story, but the great thing about Oldboy is that it virtually never stops revealing new pieces of information throughout its runtime. Every scene takes you deeper, but that also means new questions are raised. I’ll admit to guessing part of the ultimate reveal about halfway through, but this in no way ruined the movie or made it any less interesting. Oldboy is about the journey as much as it is also about the destination. Every facet of the film works together seamlessly to create one of the best films of the 2000s.
Oldboy is so delightfully layered and beautifully shot that I imagine it holds up rather well on re-watch. I was especially impressed with how the small, flourishes of style used by Park Chan-wook never felt flashy or drew attention to themselves. They always feel in service of the story, adding a layer on top of the scene they are augmenting. Probably the most talked about shot (and the one I had heard about prior to seeing the film) is the hallway fight scene shot in a single take. The shot shows the entire hallway as if the building were sliced in half. This is perfect visual filmmaking, and placing the camera in such a way makes the fight feel incredibly realistic. Nothing is faked through editing, it’s all out there on display and it’s an incredible shot.
But the rest of the film is just as impressive in different ways. There are loads of great crane shots, and shots that surprised me with how inventive they were. After seeing thousands of movies, it’s easy to accept the idea that it’s all been done, so I love when a director is so creative that their film contains multiple instances that make me go, “Wow!” And Oldboy was a lot of “wow.” Perhaps I’m overselling it, though, as the film is also quite subtle visually and not necessarily a film that jumps out as an especially gorgeous one.
Finally seeing Oldboy cements the fact in my mind that Park Chan-wook is a directorial force to be reckoned with. I have previously only seen Stoker and his segment in Three… Extremes, so I’m almost a total newcomer. If he decides to continue working in the US, I hope the producers he’s working with allow him the freedom necessary to make something as broad and unique as his talent. I can’t wait to see more from Park Chan-wook.
Oldboy is the first film in my 2014 Blind Spot Series where I see one movie a month that I feel I should’ve seen a long time ago. It’s all the brainchild of Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee, one of the web’s premiere film blogs. Head over there tomorrow where he’ll have a post of his own for the series, as well as links to all the other people taking part in the series. And feel free to participate on your own blog as well!
Great stuff Will. I agree, it’s a film that is best served by knowing as little about it as possible. That said, it’s just as enjoyable second, third, fourth, fifth time around!
It does seem like it would hold up rather well on re-watches. It’s quite the well-constructed film.
The year of this film’s release, it played at TIFF. Guess who wasn’t smart enough to make it one of his selections!
In a lot of ways, I was in the same boat as you for a long time – I only saw it for the first time three years ago or so. It’s a little crazy the way a film can have this amazing reputation and yet you can go so long not knowing much about it, isn’t it?
It’s wild – when I think about this film, the first word that comes to mind is “bleak”. Bleak colour, bleak expression, bleak narrative. I’m actually loathe to think of another film that had me feeling so empty in such an amazing way.
You probably already know that this is part of a trilogy. For my money, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is worth moving on to…LADY VENGEANCE didn’t do much for me.
Too bad on missing it at TIFF! There’s too many movies to choose from! It is a pretty bleak film, but like you say it’s amazingly bleak. It’s very unique and always interesting, something I’m sure the US remake isn’t at all. I do plan on seeing the other films in this pseudo trilogy, hopefully sooner rather than later.
I have this on my list to see this year too. I love all things Korean so it’s pretty exciting. Thanks for the warning about watching it cold. Yay!
Hope you enjoy it when you see it! I actually haven’t seen too many Korean movies, but after this I definitely need to rectify that. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Great review Will. Oldboy is definitely a well-crafted film, though as Ryan says, pretty bleak. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t think I would want to see it again.
Thanks! I don’t mind the bleakness of the story at all, but I’m definitely not eager to dive back in and re-watch it. Maybe in a few years.
Absolutely love this move. Probably my favourite example of directorial style, plot, action, and acting all coming together perfectly. Have deliberately avoided the re-make so far, if only to preserve my passion for this beast. Like you say, it takes a lot to grab your attention when you watch as many films as we do. It’s a hard one to recommend, because it’s a difficult movie to watch.
If you’ve not seen it, there’s a very similarly themed movie from the same era called “A Bittersweet Life” that is equally kick-ass.
I can’t imagine the remake being anything worth while. I might watch it someday, but I think it’s one best left unseen.
I haven’t seen A Bittersweet Life, but it’s on my list!
FINALLY I got to see this one last night. Man, you’re right. It’s bloody amazing!
Indeed! I need to see some more of his movies.
Well, I finally got around to this one. I tossed it on the Netflix queue a good while back on your recommendation. It finally wormed its way to the top, and damn! What a movie! I was hooked right from the start, and it never disappointed. There’s so much good stuff in here. I guess I need to thank you for pointing it out to me, otherwise I’d have never paid any attention to it.
There’s a few comments on how bleak it is; and while I have to admit it is pretty bleak, it never felt that way to me. I guess I was just too caught up in the mystery of what was going on to think about how dismal the situation was for the characters. So does that make me messed up in the head?
Cool, glad you liked it! I agree with you on its bleakness. I only really noticed it, or perhaps became aware of it completely, after the movie was over and I was thinking about it. So if you’re messed up, so am I! hahaha