Movie Review: Oldboy

What if you were kidnapped and held hostage for 15 years without being told why? And then, as if that weren’t maddening enough, one day you are released without being told why. Don’t know why you were kidnapped and don’t know why you were released. All you know is that you are going to dedicate the rest of your life to finding out who was responsible and hunting them down. That’s the premise of the Korean film-yes, another Korean film-titled Oldboy. As I write this Oldboy is situated at number 133 on the IMDB Top 250 list, nestled nearly perfectly between Ran and Fargo. That would make one heck of a triple feature. Oldboy has been written about by others here and many others elsewhere and rightly so. It is a film that you will never forget. And the really terrific thing is that there is almost a guarantee that it will never be remade by Hollywood because its ultimate revelations touch on topics still considered far too taboo by most Hollywood players to touch.

Oldboy is a film really quite impossible to write about in much depth because it is a movie whose greatness depends upon its revelations. I’m not talking cheating revelations like The Sixth Sense, I’m talking powerful and integrated revelations like The Crying Game or The English Patient. The premise is as described: a man is kidnapped and kept in furnished room for fifteen years. He is fed, he has a bed, he is given paper to keep a journal. He is never told why he has been imprisoned, nor is he told why he was released. It is that release that is the real focus of the film. Because upon being released he comes to realize that he is still metaphorically imprisoned because his every move seems to be known by his captor. Nevertheless, he embarks upon an odyssey of revenge that also involves a young sushi bar chef with whom he falls in love. To say too much more would be to run the risk of taking away from you the sheer pleasure of watching this movie’s incendiary secrets slowly explode. There is a word of warning, however. This is a movie about vengeance and while revenge is a dish best served cold like the live octopus that is eaten in the film’s most controversial scene, in the world of film revenge is a dish best served bloody. While hardly the most violent or gory movie I’ve ever seen, it may well prove to be a bit more than some moviegoers can take. For instance, there is a scene involving the extraction of teeth that makes the “Is it safe” scene from Marathon Man look like a visit to Dr. Feelgood.

If you get can past the violence (and the octopus), Oldboy is well worth the effort because it is one of the most stylishly directed films of the decade. The long uncut sideways scroll scene in which the main character fights off about two dozen gang members is quite possibly the best fight scene of the past twenty years. And it is incredibly well written. The revelations are such that by the end your emotional attachment to the main character may have shifted more often than the clutch of a 1970’s MG Spitfire. The foundation of the plot of Oldboy also shifts from why he was kidnapped to why he was released. The why he was kidnapped is directly related to the why he was released and when you find the answers to both questions you will understand why this is one foreign film that will probably never be Americanized. But if it is, let’s hope to God they get Gary Oldman to play the main character, and not just because of the wonderful synchronicity of Oldman IS Oldboy. Although bad casting ideas have been mentioned in the ongoing horrendous idea of remaking Oldboy, Gary Oldman seems to me the only English-speaking actor capable of coming anywhere close to the brilliant performance of Min-Sik Choi.