Oldboy (2003)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Kang Hye-jeong, Yu Ji-tae

Tagline: "The futility of revenge explained"

Ever since I saw Chan-wook Park's Joint Security Area (2000) at MIFF in 2001, I have tried to see as many Korean movies as possible at festivals and elsewhere as they were so exciting.

Although I didn't see his movie Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) at last year's MIFF, this one had a very good vibe about it and was personally recommended to me as one to look out for.

If you have heard about the movie, you would probably know it begins with a man Oh-Daesu who ends up locked in the one room for 15 years and then gets released trying to find the person who imprisoned him.

I will not go any further into the plot as it would be doing a tremendous disservice to this movie to try and explain it in some half-arsed way after I have just seen it. Do not let anyone who has seen this movie reveal too much of the plot for you (the clowns at work ruined the movie Memento (2000) for me like this.)

Despite what they said about the octopus scene, I didn't have a problem with it. I do admit to not being able to look during the home dentistry scene though: I don't like going to the dentist at the best of times.

Another stand-out sequence is the fight between Oh-Daesu and his jailers. Armed with only a hammer he takes on over twenty people with a knife in his back. When faced with another lift-full of attackers, you see the lift open in the car park and all of them fall out. I was so impressed with this scene that I later made my own replica 'Oldboy' hammer and considered getting it signed by the director while he was in town during the festival.

In a Q&A session at the 53rd Melbourne International Film Festival there were some great questions asked about the movie. James Hewison (festival director) stole some of my questions by asking about how he came about the 'moral universe' for the film and name-checking A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Park Chan-Wook replied that it had to do with Korean tradition where you are not meant to get back at people when they wrong you. Another theme examined in the movie was respecting your elders, which it also went against.

He also continued that to prepare the actor Min-sik Choi for the role of Oh Dae-su they worked together from the start of production (neither of them initially knew that they were working together, as the producer took care of it).

In pre-production for the movie they focussed on other areas such as getting the sets ready and left the acting until they needed to do it for real.

The first question from the audience was why he wanted to cover the theme of vengeance over three movies (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and the upcoming Lady Vengeance (2005)).

Park Chan-Wook's response was that he wanted to show that vengeance breeds more vengeance and it never stops. Also he wanted to act as a release valve for his country as it is never discussed there.

A further comment he made was that the USA invaded Iraq as vengeance for 9/11, but do the American people really feel happy about it?

I had to change my question slightly as it was similar to what had already been asked. It was about how I thought the character of Oh Dae-Su had an intensity that was similar to other characters in Stanley Kubrick's movies and did he have any opinion on that director.

Park Chan-Wook said the late Mr Kubrick was one of his favourite directors and the most influential film of his was the movie Lolita (1962). For the actual depiction of violence he drew inspiration from Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Driller Killer (1979)).

He said he wanted to show the pain of violence and the effect it has on the victims and also question the morality of violence as a means of using it to solve problems.

I do want to see this movie again, even just to experience the performance of Oh-Daesu throughout the movie.

I will need to have a long rest before seeing it again - as well as being very physically violent, it is very emotionally violent and you will feel like you've been beaten about the head by the time it is over.

Rating: 10/10

Soundtrack review here.

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