Park Chan-wook’s South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy is overwhelming in every possible way. Watching this movie was such an intense experience that I kind of don’t even know where to begin with this review.
First of all, Oldboy is one of those movies where giving away too many crucial plot points beforehand would ruin the experience for any viewer. The thrill of Oldboy is the gradual release of the truth; the slow reveal of the intricate details behind Oh Dae-Su’s kidnapping and release.
I didn’t really know much about the movie before watching it (other than a lot of people telling me it was amazing), which in hindsight was definitely the best to watch it. Everything was a surprise, and my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time (other than a few moments when, squeamishly, I had to look away). By the end of it, I felt like I had been run over by a train.
Without giving away too much, though, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, the basic premise of the film is that businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years, torn away from his life and daughter and all of society. Without any explanation as to why, he is trapped in a room with no human contact, and nothing but a TV to keep him connected to the outside world. It is through his many hours watching this television that Dae-su learns of his wife’s murder, a case in which he is a suspect. After fifteen years, Oh Dae-su emerges from his prison extremely changed, and now must seek answers and revenge. The new Dae-su — who is dark and intense and played beautifully by Choi Min-sik — is taken in by a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), who he meets at a sushi restaurant.
Oldboy is raw, gritty, violent, and powerful. It’s shocking and emotional and a complete roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s also filled with a lot of really memorable scenes involving hammers and live octopuses. The famous one-take hallway scene, in which Dae-su single-handedly fights his way through an army of henchmen, is particularly brilliant.
Fun facts from Wikipedia about the octopus scene: “The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. It should also be noted that the eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.”
Now, about that remake. A couple of days ago, the first trailer for the English-language, Spike Lee-directed 2013 remake of Oldboy was released, and I saw a lot of outrage in response to it. Outrage that I think, after viewing the original, is definitely justifiable. Halfway through watching the movie, I found myself asking, “Why are they even remaking this?” To cash in on English-speaking audiences (and close-minded people who refuse to watch movies if they have to read subtitles — I know for a fact that these people exist) who haven’t seen the original, maybe? Remakes are acceptable if the source material can somehow be improved upon or reinterpreted, but I don’t see any way that this remake of Oldboy can do either of those things. And from the looks of the trailer, it’s not going to.
The concept of Oldboy is brilliant, and it is beautifully constructed and executed. I’m not exactly sure how any remake could improve, let alone measure up to, the original’s excellence. I just hope that viewers who go to see Spike Lee’s remake (which is out October 8 of this year) will watch the original first. Or, honestly, I just really hope that, at the very least, viewers know that the original even exists.
I had been meaning to watch this film for ages, and put it off because the version Netflix has available stream is an English-dubbed version (I really, really don’t recommend watching anything — especially this — dubbed unless you have no other option), but the other day I was informed that you can watch Oldboy for free on Hulu, so I ran to it with open arms. And it definitely paid off.
My advice to first-time viewers: prepare yourself. Oldboy is a movie that you should open your mind to and allow yourself to be absorbed into (getting sucked into it isn’t hard). The plot twist(s) and overall intensity will hit you like a freight train. After watching it, I felt dazed and drained — it’s a movie that you really experience. And it’s one hell of an experience. I’m still in shock, and I think I will continue to be for days/weeks more before this film fully sinks in.