Oldboy is a story centered on vengeance. It is a story about a man’s desperate struggle to find the truth as to why he lost 15 years of his life being held captive. What makes this film so immersive and captivating at the same time is not only through its storyline, but also through the actors’ performances and production design.
Based on a manga of the same name Oldboy tells the tale of Oh Dae-su, a man who had been imprisoned for 15 years without knowing why. When he is suddenly released from his imprisonment, he is left a batch of clean clothes, a mobile phone and some money. His kidnapper suddenly calls him and tells him that he only has five days to find out the truth behind his imprisonment or else the woman that he loves will be killed.
There are many aspects to this film that make it amazing to watch. Firstly, Choi Min-Sik (the antagonist from Lucy) plays a superb role as Oh Dae-su – there is a reason why he is one of South Korea’s most famous actors. He puts in so much energy and emotion into his role that we can’t help but empathise for his character and his constant struggles in the film. Yu Ji-tae also puts on a superb performance as the cunning and sly Woo Jin; the man behind Oh Dae-su’s problems. “[Oh Dae-su] is like a dry wooden block with only revenge on his mind and nothing else,” says Choi.* “But as the drama unfolds his character becomes more human – like moss growing on a wooden block after it gets wet.”
Oldboy is also filled with many influences of classical literature and artwork, particularly within its mise-en-scene. While Oh Dae-su and Mi-Do are sleeping together in bed, the composition of the shot, the colours in the room and the way they are laying next to each other look like a piece of artwork. There is a famous line from Ella Wheeler Wilcox that is repeated throughout the film and is also central to the film’s plot: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone. Park Chan-Wook, the director of the film, wanted to make the film feel as though it was a Shakespearean tragedy, “The characters of Shakespeare often fight against destiny of which they have no control and there is absurdity in that,” says Park.*
There is one scene in Oldboy that has become quite famous over the years and that is the corridor brawl between Oh Dae-su and a group of gangsters. The fight scene was actually shot in one take, with no cuts between Oh Dae-su and the gangsters. When you look at it, it almost looks similar to a 2D fighting game. What I like about that fight scene, compared to other fight scenes I’ve seen in the past, is that there is a story behind it and it is also quite realistic. While they are fighting Oh Dae-su and the gangsters start becoming too tired to continue; both start running out of breath. According to Park, “Our original intention was to make the most interesting fight sequence in the world but when we came to do it, my intention was to make the most boring sequence in the world that is almost never ending.”*
Oldboy is definitely rated as one of my all-time favourite movies. The film’s brilliant use of mise-en-scene and cinematography, along with its amazing soundtrack, make for one unforgettable tale of vengeance and the frailty of human nature. This is not your usual run-of-the-mill revenge drama, this is a story that will leave you gobsmacked by the end of it – trust me, when everything is revealed at the end, especially the major plot twist, you will not believe everything that you just saw. If you are able to get your hands on this film, I definitely recommend giving this a watch. This is truly cinema at its best.
*Taken from an essay by Chris Sullivan in the Tartan Asia Extreme Edition of the film