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Chanwook Park’s Oldboy shocks, but not without reason.
There exists in the world of cinema two groups: films made to evoke humor, pique our pleasures, or to simply entertain. Then there are films that seem to wring our senses and our perceptions in such an excruciating manner as to create new horizons in the cinematic experience.
Chanwook Park’s Oldboy not only belongs in the latter group, it also uncovers new facets. Garnering the Grand Prix award at last year’s Cannes film festival, the plot of Oldboy is in itself original and complex. After being detained by the police for a public display of floundering drunkenness, Dae Su is released. However, that same night he, without logic, finds himself in a room locked from the outside. Offered no explanation and no warning, Dae Su learns via the television that he has been framed for the murder of his wife. For 15 years he is imprisoned. Without reason he is mysteriously transported atop a Seoul apartment tower roof and is determined to seek revenge.
Upon his interface with the outside world, Dae Su is offered a cell phone and a wallet filled with money from a complete stranger. In a sushi restaurant he encounters Mido (Gang Hye-jung), a young, attractive waitress. Mido learns about Dae Su Oh’s unjust imprisonment and unsurprisingly, romantic affections develop. With the aid of Mido and his longtime friend Joo-hwan (Dae-han Chi), Dae Su traverses through the underbelly of Seoul to unravel the who and why behind his imprisonment. What unfolds is nothing less than a series of violent encounters with characters, mind-blowing events and soul-shattering revelations.
Oldboy is a film that has such an interesting plot, it would suffice for a great film on its own terms. However, its layers of complexity and cinematic innovation propels it onto an exponentially larger level. As the story is told from the perspective of Dae Su Oh (Choi Min-sik), a sense of lyricism becomes infused in the film, from script to structure to the characters themselves. The cinematic methods elevate it to a level of visual narrative that the word “groundbreaking” can be used without exaggeration. For instance, time is conveyed by weaving a rhythmic sequence of visual layering.
Oldboy pushes and tweaks the senses, the complexity of the plot, the horrific yet titillating motives behind the protagonists and their arch-nemesis. There are scenes that manage to wrack the nerves, to disgust and to intrigue. As there is a fine line between providing such elements to purely shock and to do so with a purpose, Chanwook Park is careful to never cross it.
Akin to the cinematic motives of John Cassavetes, Oldboy is not an easy film to watch. It takes one on a wrenching journey that makes the connection between the visual and the spiritual, between the traumatizing and the enjoyable. What one is comfortable with is expelled, purged and shaken to reach a heightened level. Oldboy shows that displeasure may result in altered perception.
Oldboy hits theatres in the U.S. March 25.
Date Posted: 3/24/2005