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!