It’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino’s Cannes jury went ga-ga for Oldboy, a pomo revenge saga of the best-served-cold variety. Daesu (the great Choi Min-sik, of Chiwaseon fame) wigs out at a police station before inexplicably landing inside a Kafkaesque prison cell (essentially a seedy hotel room as imagined by Michel Gondry but photographed by David Fincher). Fifteen years and countless mental breakdowns later, Daesu returns to the real world with revenge in mind. Courtesy of Jeong-hun Jeong’s perpetually roving camera and Yeong-wook Jo’s inventive score, Daesu appears as if he’s participating in a video installation project dedicated to his life. Over the course of the film’s two hours, not only does Daesu enact revenge on his alleged enemies but comes to discover the rationale behind his mysterious prison sentence. Director Park Chan-wook’s set pieces are giddily outlandish, a highlight of which is a hammer-wielding Daesu’s tireless murdering spree inside a thug-filled corridor, as is the endlessly inventive sound design (in one scene, the film’s melodramatic score turns out to be the ringing sound on Daesu’s cellphone), but Oldboy’s nihilistic aesthetic is an endurance test, and not just for the film’s protagonist. Once the present begins to liberally interact with the past, it’s only a matter of time before a last-act revelation contextualizes (and trivializes) the film’s strange happenings. The less said about the film the better but there’s no way around its utter pitilessness. It’s obvious that Daesu’s prison time is an abstraction of sorts, and much of what happens to him throughout the film is a means of sorting through the pieces of a fractured psyche. For much of its running time, the suffocating Oldboy’s existentialist angst promises sophisticated returns only to spiral into callous Identity territory. What does it really mean, you may ask after watching this spectacularly meaning-less film, a pristine example of style and plot over substance.
- Park Chan-wook
- Park Chan-wook, Lim Chun-hyeong, Hwang Jo-yun
- Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-ieong, Ji Dae-han, Oh Dal-su, Kim Byeong-ok, Kim Su-hyeon, Lee Seung-jin, Yun Su-kyeong
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