Looking Back: Oldboy (2003)

Park Chan-Wook is the master of the weird, the peculiar, the macabre. The Korean director has caught, captured, and compelled and looks to be doing the same with erotic thriller The Handmaiden. To celebrate the release of Chan-Wook’s award winner thriller, we’re looking at a couple of his movies. Here, we talk about his best known film: Oldboy. 

Why is it that Oldboy isn’t doing so well when given English language and famous actors? Well, mainly because the original was just so iconic and brilliantly done. It is hard to swallow a new version that seemingly ignores the true mark of revenge horrors. And certainly is a lesser effort than Park Chan-Wok’s work. So this isn’t a review on the new remake, it is in fact a look at the old masterpiece.

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Oldboy is the 2003 South Korean Horror move by Park Chan-Wook (who covered the exquisite Stoker.) It tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a drunken man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years in a cheap motel. When he released on a roof top, he is given an ultimatum by his kidnapper; he has to discover the reason for his imprisonment in five days or the women he loves will die. With the help of sushi waitress, Mi-Do (a younger woman who starts falling for Dae-Su,) he must find the answers; even if that includes a few accidents happening.

This will always be a perfect example of revenge movies because it isn’t just an exercise in blood and gore. The story, written by three man team, is teaming with astonishing plot that twists and turns alongside the violence. Rather than the main focus being just how many teeth can be extracted, it hammers the complexities and fragilities of the human spirits. Oldboy is more than squishy entrails, it is intelligent and excavates the depths of humanity when it is bent out of shape and perverted at all cost.

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It also helps that Chan-Wok is a visionary genius and that doesn’t mean pressing sepia effects on your camera either. The way Chan-Wok tells stories through the images and set up is fantastic. There is one such scene where a fight ensues between Dae-Su and gang members. The way it is filmed is so similar to a video game but it is intensely clever. Chan-Wok is the master of brutality conveyed in beautiful ways. It is where the visuals are used to enhance the story, to captivate the audience and to tell a rather achingly vivid film.

So it’s not for the squeamish and there are moments that will make you look away. Oldboy is bleak and twisted but it is alarmingly intelligent and is a classic horror story. While the remake may not fare so well due to the reliance of torture porn, this original manga adaptation is teaming with a turning narrative that, although leads to an alarming place, it is steeped with this intense madness that is authentically terrifying. Astonishingly brave and almost poetic, avoid the new version and pop this one in.

Watch Oldboy at The Ritzy tonight! 
The Handmaiden is out now! 

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