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Oldboy | Review

Nasty and Tasty

Chan-wook’s wild tale of vengeance awakens all the senses.

As luck would have it, the year that Tarantino heads the Cannes jury was simultaneous with the presentation of Park Chan-wook’s ultra-violent piece of poetry in motion. Far from being a case of pure coincidence, Oldboy placed second in the top prizes at the festival – however, what is not an accident is the pure pleasure one gets from experiencing this true walloping of psychological and physical terror and torture. Despite its extremeness and exaggerations, this is the sort of film that is ultra-satisfying on many levels – like the Kill Bills, some will enjoy the film for its simple revenge and rampage tale while others will be delighted by an aesthetic and visual composition not commonly expressed in this sort of battle between two evils.

Kidnapped and locked up in a make-shift hotel-room-like prison with a steady diet of dumplings and many hours in front of an idiot box – freedom does not come easy for a man who had the misfortune of upsetting the one person who you don’t want to upset. The rules of the cat and mouse game are thoroughly distorted in Chan-Wook’s tale which commences as a one-note revenge flick but ultimately unveils itself as something more. The narrative knows no boundaries and neither does the film in a couple of cat caught your tongue moments – not only do the sickly shots of eating live things catch viewers off-guard but the perverse plot-twist ending is one of those rare cherry on top of the sundae moments where a film ends in a thunderous roar.

DOP Chung Chung-hoon does a fabulous job at illuminating seedy dwellings and presenting a rooftop shot like how they are meant to be – vertigo-inducing and uncomfortable. Hairdo and hammer in tow, Choi Min-sik’s Dae-su is a pleasure to watch – though it’s unfortunate that the narrative doesn’t find time to develop his character a little more especially the first couple of sequences that explores the 15 years of his borderline mental insanity. One faulty component and minor complaint to a film is the referred flashback sequence with references to age – which is unbalanced with the ages of the protagonist and antagonist.

Every year there are hundreds of screenplays turned into movies that have no clue how to deviate and originally present the whole notion of “getting even” – Oldboy seems to recoup the Charles Bronson figures from Once Upon a Time in the West and the Death Wish series and unleash the wrath within. While some may lose their appetite over the memorable sadistic horrors that occur, I expect a full-out craving to develop for more of this extreme cinema from the Korean new wave.

Viewed in original Korean language with English subtitles.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric splits his time between his home base in Montreal, NYC, and is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. Top 3 from 2016: Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt), Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve), Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

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