After two years of international release, Park Chan-Wook’s “Oldboy” finally makes its way to American theaters. The film takes place in Seoul, South Korea and begins with Oh Dae Su (Choi Min-Sik) being disorderly at a police station. He’s been arrested for drunkenness and must wait for his best friend, Woo-Jinn (Yu Ji-Tae), to bail him out. Outside the police station, Woo-Jinn props up Oh Dae Su to call his family. When he turns around, Oh Dae Su has vanished. This begins a nightmarish ordeal for Oh Dae Su. For the next fifteen years, he’s confined to a small room with only a television to keep him company. He’s given food through a slot in the door, but is never addressed by his captors. His only contact with them is unconscious. Every so often, a sleeping agent fills his room and he passes out. He has no idea what happens during these periods, but knows that something is being done to him.
Oh Dae Su’s life becomes even more hellish when he finds out, from the television, that his wife has been murdered and young daughter given up for adoption. He’s the prime suspect because of his disappearance. Consumed by hatred, Oh Dae Su trains himself for the day when he can exact his revenge. He turns his mind and body into a killing machine. Then, after being gassed, he wakes up on the roof of a building. He’s set free without any notice or reason why he was kidnapped. Oh Dae Su is hell bent on vengeance. What he finds goes much deeper and is far more sinister then he ever imagined.
Oldboy is an incredibly visceral movie. Everything about it from the twisted storyline to the graphic violence is meant to shock you. It works initially; then quickly degrades into a relentless stream of disturbing imagery and wasted dialogue. Park Chan-Wook wants to build up to an explosive climax. He’s got a good story, but spends way too much time getting to the point. The tension created is lost and the film limps to a bizarre conclusion. Editing is a key factor here. Oldboy would have been far more effective if it had been cut down. You get the feeling that Park Chan-Wook had a lot of visual ideas and wanted to keep a lot of them in the film.
The early buzz surrounding Oldboy has been very positive. The film has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. My reaction to the film is somewhat mixed. It has an interesting plot, but is too labyrinthine in resolving it. The twist ending is sort of surprising and should get most audience members. I had an inkling of what the payoff was, but I watch these kinds of films very closely. Oldboy did not live up to my expectations, but too much hype has a way of doing that. Avoid all spoilers and you should be entertained by this better-than-average thriller.