Even though I'm no more than a monster - don't I, too, have the right to live? - Dae-su Oh
Oldboy is a revenge film that is not like your typical revenge film. This is no Clint Eastwood movie where the unnamed Cowboy leaves a trail of bodies of those that wrong him in his wake as he disappears into the desert. This is not a Robert Rodriguez revenge film where the hero leaves a wake of destruction, sex and corpses en route to getting the girl and driving off into the sunset. This is a revenge film that is brutal and twisted in ways that are almost unfathomable to the viewer.
The principal players are Dae-su, played by Min-sik Choi, Woo-jin Lee, played by Ji-tae Yu, and Mi-do, played by Hye-jeong Kang. Yes, it did take me a long time to type out those alphabet soup names.
The movie features a few flashbacks; one that starts mere seconds after the film begins in fact. We see Dae-su as he was in his past, a drunken man that is being held by the police and behaving like a child on his daughter’s birthday. Dae-su is clearly an irresponsible adult. He does have a friend who bails him out of the police station but shortly thereafter Dae-su disappears. Imprisoned by an unknown person for an undetermined amount of time. We find out that his wife was murdered and the police are looking for Dae-su as the prime suspect. Dae-su’s life is looking fairly grim and incredibly lonely and filled with despair. Dae-su tries to kill himself several times before settling down to write his story of how he has been a terrible person and to make a list of people he has wronged, people that might want to imprison him. He also begins to train his body by attacking his wall with ferocity.
Dae-su is eventually released. He has to be; otherwise there would be no movie. Finally the movie catches up with the very first scene. Dae-su begins his quest for revenge and his quest for the truth. Why was he imprisoned? Who imprisoned him? His quest leads him to Mi-do, a young girl who is as lonely and filled with just as much despair as him. Naturally they fall in love. He also eventually meets Woo-jin, his captor. At this point the bloody game begins but the game is also a twisted and sick game of mental warfare.
Other items of interest are the ants that pour out of Dae-su’s skin while he is imprisoned and the sole giant ant that plagues Mi-do while she is lonely and depressed. Mi-do thinks it has something to do with loneliness and I think for her it is quite true. For Dae-su the ants represent some loneliness but mostly it represents his feeling of insignificance. The ants pouring out of Dae-su’s skin is also an homage to a short, a short that anyone who is familiar with French silent films will no doubt be well aware.
The soundtrack is comprised of orchestra pieces, most notably Vivaldi. The soundtrack really lends itself to the mood of the scenes even though they feel out of place during the scenes of rage and violence. I think this lends to the sheer insanity and twisted nature of what is happening.
The Hallway Fight is perhaps the most brutal fight I have ever seen in a movie and the fight scene is so brutally simple and violent that it will go down in film lore as perhaps one of the greatest fight scenes ever to be put to film.
As the film progresses you begin to ask yourself what is more important to Dae-su, the truth or vengeance? You also begin to ask yourself who is the one really seeking vengeance? And interestingly at the end of the movie we finally understand that pain and anguish that the truth and vengeance bring to the seekers as Dae-su’s joyful smile slowly turns into a silent scream of anguish and horror.
This film is well worth the viewing and should be a good opening selection to anyone’s Korean film library.