Last year I got to see the cult classic film, Oldboy. For a long time I only knew of the film for the amazing corridor fight scene it had. Now after seeing the film for six times I can obviously say that I am emotionally exhausted, but also happy for watching this film. Since I only knew of one fight scene in this movie, I did not know a whole lot about Oldboy in general. Personally I am glad that I went nearly blind going into this movie because even the beginning as tons of shock value. This is possibly one of the best movies to go in blindly. Then for those who are reading this there will not be major spoilers, but I still tell you this. Please watch the film first before going any further. I know many will not listen, but I have to continue typing regardless.
Oldboy is quite hard to review because to me there is ton of shock value in the entire movie. When things start out our main character is saving a man from falling off a building so he can tell him his story. Our main character in question, Oh Dae-su had one night out completely drunk and gets into police custody. Even though much smaller there is already a bit of a shock because of how fast the tone shifts in the beginning. When Dae-su is saving the man the music is intense with fast and loud beats as it quickly cuts to Dae-Su with a bloody nose and just acting comically drunk. The original scene itself that got deleted was much longer and really drove with awkward comedy. Either way we are watching our main character at the beginning just being a stupid drunk. When he is soon picked up by his friend, he is then picked up by someone else, unexpectedly of course.
This leads to Dae-su in this mysterious room where so far he has been imprisoned for two months in. Dae-su cuts in with his narration about how he stayed in this room for fifteen years and slowly tries to get out with the use of a metal chopstick. During his imprisonment he learns that his wife was murdered and he was the main suspect in the case. Dae-su gets frantic and attempts to kill himself, but the men who have been watching him keep him alive and even groom him from time to time. Dae-su was also training for the day when he finds the person who imprisoned him. Our main character wants to get out to simply get out, but if he can live from the ordeal he wants revenge for being imprisoned. He was mysteriously released one day which leads the story to where Dae-su finds the man when he was almost about to jump off the building. It then cuts back to the current time frame since Dae-su did just tell his story.
This was already a strong use of a subtle narration in the film since the beginning of his story started out with Dae-su just being a silly drunk. You simply forget he was telling a story even when he cuts in with narration. This film has many subtle uses which really helps the directing of this film. Even if narration was used for the film before it only does it for to help create a bigger image. Sometimes there will be no narration and yet the film can perfectly show you what is happening. There is one moment where that really spoke true where Dae-su was trying fried dumplings again even though that was the food he had for fifteen years. The narration does kick in after his first attempt and yet it still does not directly say what he was doing it for. Dae-su says he could never forget the food he had for fifteen years and so he was trying to find where the source of the food came from to the find where he was imprisoned. There are many instances of this use of narration in the film as it does become some sort of reoccurring theme.
Now before he goes taste testing, shortly after being released Oh Dae-su finds himself in some interesting situations. He has been imprisoned for fifteen years so his social skills are not that great anymore. He stole small items straight from people’s faces and even got into a fight with five young kids. Then suddenly he is given a wallet and a cell phone by a man who knew nothing. Dae-su starts to use his money already at a restaurant where he wanted to eat something alive. This is where he meets Mi-do a young cook that suddenly falls in love with the man shortly after meeting him and learning his story. Even though Dae-su did not have the best way to show his affection back to Mi-do during their first confrontations. Dae-su even found it hard to trust her at certain points since this woman just let him stay at her place for the sole reason that she liked him. Mi-do is easily an interesting character as she can surprisingly be energetic even at some scary points in her life which makes use of that awkward comedy again. This does soon become a budding relationship because of how tense things become and will this relationship even last the hardships of what is to come?
I mentioned about the corridor fight scene before which occurs when Dae-su finds where he was imprisoned and slowly starts to find the man who imprisoned him. What is lovely about that fight scene is that it carries an element of what the film has already done. The movie can surprisingly have long scene occur with no camera cuts or by simply just moving the camera in different locations. The fight scene takes that method further though with the whole fight being one long crane shot as Dae-su simply tries to get to the other side of the corridor. What is great about the fight scene too is how frantic it is and yet easy to keep track of. There can be surprises thrown in the fight, but it never feels that it was mistake. Everything was shown in the previous shot before so it is all there in the fight scene. I also love seeing how the fighters act in it, Dae-su is taking many guys at once, but uses his way of fighting to spread them out or push many back at a time. Meanwhile the thugs are trying their best to work with each other. I even enjoy seeing how some fighters quickly regret what they are doing at certain moments. Then seeing them on the floor squirming around and even trying to throw their weapons at Dae-su shows how stubborn they are. I can easily recommend watching the fight scene by itself since it is a great watch on its own right. The best part about the fight is that no one died, how rare is that to see in an action or thriller movie?
After some carnage, Dae-su soon finds the man behind everything after he helped him out. So far he is only known as Evergreen right now since that was his username on a chat service. His introduction already tells you quickly that he is messed up. Even before that we get great context to why he imprisoned Dae-su as it was simply because he talked too much. Evergreen’s introduction was nothing short of genius since it brings up the major theme of the movie. Dae-su wants to kill this man more than anyone right now, but the man holds the truth to everything. Dae-su even tried torturing the man and that will not work either since he will not allow that. How can he stop a monster from doing that, easy by hiding the truth. Evergreen has a pacemaker for his weak heart and he even gave himself an off switch so he could kill himself whenever he wanted to. It is literally revenge or the truth as Dae-su has to keep playing this man’s game to find the truth in five days.
That is where I will stop talking about plot because the rest is an absolute blast to see in an awkward way. The movement of the film really changes since things start to fall in place more and slowly piecing things together makes it engaging. There is a lot at risk too since if Dae-su loses this game, the girl Mi-do will be murdered and if Dae-su wins, this man will go ahead and die. Whoever this man is, he has a vendetta on Dae-su so much that he wants to kill any woman who fell in love with Dae-su. The man known as Evergreen is simply one of my favorite antagonists around. First off his presence is menacing when we first hear his voice. It just gives off this sense joy and anger than meeting the man fifteen years later that recording, he just seems to be having fun. It is scary how organized this man was for everything to fall into place and then even if things got messy he had the truth to help him as well. It really opens up the concept of what revenge means. One can kill and it needs meaning to do so to be revenge. Dae-su only knows that he was imprisoned and that is all. He knows he talked too much back then and that is all. The lack of the truth makes revenge seems less meaningful and in the end Dae-su could just live the rest of his life in a bigger prison. This also says a lot about Dae-su has a character since his release since even though he wanted revenge, he still wants it to have meaning. Dae-su is living a new life now and to finally release himself of the past he needs to find out what happened in order to move on.
One thing that really speaks true about this film is how it challenges the thriller genre. Now there are some aspects that are still around like the risk of life or death. One major difference is the concept of the revenge or truth and how that really drives at a man’s psyche. Another good pointer to the psyche angle was when Dae-su was imprisoned and slowly losing himself. This is thrilling because Dae-su is changing and to be honest it is not clear if this is good or not. If he is released we have no idea how things could turn up since he was fine with suicide just so he could get out. Even Dae-su mentions this after his big fight in the corridor as he thinks that he cannot turn back into the old Dae-su, he has become a monster. Then at the same time there is a love story going on as the new Dae-su works well with Mi-do. Dae-su was known to be a drunk and just fight with people including his wife and neighbors and now he is fighting for a purpose and protecting someone close to him. It is really questionable if he changed for the better or for the worse as we do not know how things could have happened with his marriage. Who is better, the drunk or the man fighting for a new life?
Now this will be the end of this part of a long review and analysis I am doing for Oldboy. The biggest reason is that I want this first part to be a nice way to spark some interest in anyone reading this. The second part is going to cover many spoilers, but I need to talk about those moments to get a full grasp on what I am reviewing. For the second part, I will cover the truth, the ending, and how this film really paints the thriller genre in a new way, but with an old shade of paint.