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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2003!
After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days.
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On the screen under your eyelids, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003) will continue flickering for days. From the frenetic opening image of its hero Oh Daesu (Min-sik Choi) interrogating a suicidal jumper atop a Seoul apartment building, to its balletic fight sequence in a single camera-pan across a darkened hallway where violence has never looked more beautiful, the images come fast but measured, in deep focus and dripping with rich dreamy colours, allowing us to devour them and lose ourselves to their hypnotic tick-tock as the clock ticks down on Oh Daesu’s mission of vengeance.
The premise is simple and grabs hold of you by the hand from the first frame. A man is released from private captivity and stumbles his way though his new surroundings. We share his sense of wonderment and confusion as his thoughts, in voiceover, explain his predicament: kidnapped and held for fifteen years in a hotel room with nothing but a television set and a hole in a wall for company, he is suddenly released without any explanation for the ordeal. He knows not his captors or the reasons behind his incarceration, and we embark on a journey to seek answers.
There are Freudian twists and Lynchian turns as our protagonist tumbles down the rabbit hole of his past and, as he gets closer to uncovering some very dark secrets which would have been at home on any given stage in ancient Greece, we can only watch what is unfolding before us wide-eyed and entranced, surrendering to the web Park has conjured for his hero and the audience.
The best stories stay with us not only because of their content but in the manner in which they are told, and nobody understands this better than the director who has made this film as technically brilliant as any to have been made in the last decade. Not only does the camera not shy away from gruesome, shocking scenes of psychological and physical brutality, but they almost seems natural given the context of the story, and leaves those with stronger stomachs begging for more.
Oldboy won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, bringing the talents of Chan-wook Park and new South Korean cinema to international attention, and went on to win more than 17 awards worldwide. It is part of a thematic trilogy of vengeance from Park, with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) sandwiching the most successful film of the three. Having seen all of them, I cannot recommend them any higher as they showcase versatility and ferocity rarely sustained over a period of a trilogy, pushing the three films in the highest levels of cinematic echelon.
The film was adapted for the screen by Park and his screenwriting team from a Japanese manga of the same name and characters but with a slightly differing story line. The idea for a Hollywood remake of Oldboy has been bandied about since the success of the original, and finally seems to have got the green light with Will Smith and Steven Spielberg connecting themselves to the project (currently slated for release in 2010 according to IMDB). Without dwelling on the potential remake and its validity, the only thing a fan of the original can recommend is for audiences to watch the original, lose themselves under its spell, then decide if a remake is even worthy of such a great film.