Oldboy (2003)

  • Title: Oldboy
  • Country of Origin: South Korea (Republic of Korea)
  • Genre: Thriller, Neo-Noir
  • Released: 2003
  • Run time: 120 Minutes
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Starring: Choi Min-sik (RoK), Yoo Ji-tae (RoK), Kang Hye-jung (RoK)
  • Available on: Amazon DVD, iTunes
  • Recommendation by: George Harrison


Let’s be clear here. I love Josh Brolin. I think his work is great; but if you’re gonna watch ‘Oldboy’, please watch the original version, that is, this version, as the 2013 remake simply lacks the oomph. The spark that makes this South Korean adaptation of a Manga novel such a thrill is hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it’s simply that it’s a revenge thriller and a damn good one. Or perhaps it’s the cacophony of madness this horrifying masterpiece imprints on your brain.

Park Chan-wook’s film starts with a normal guy, Oh Dae-su (a tour de force from Min-sik Choi) being kidnapped and imprisoned in a tatty hotel room for 15 years without explanation; his companions, his thoughts and a television. He is then released with money, a phone and a suit to find out why his life was ruined. As he strives to uncover his kidnapper’s motive, he becomes part to more pain and suffering, masterminded by his tormentor.

Oh Dae-su’s journey takes him to a sushi restaurant, where he befriends a beautiful young woman, and in his eagerness to test his own limits in freedom, eats a live octopus on screen, its tentacles still writhing on his face as he does so. This controversial scene prompts a lot of sympathy for the octopus, but it is what Oldboy is all about. In another scene our anti-hero (still Min-sik Choi, not a stuntman) takes on dozens of aggressors at once in a stunning single tracking shot that plays from right to left, like an old ‘Street Fighter’ video game or a Norman tapestry. One constantly experiences such unique scenes and ideas whilst watching ‘Oldboy’, and is enthralled, disgusted and sometimes scarred by cinema.



One should be prepared for the strange, the use of Vivaldi, the grossly violent (off-screen in its extremities), the downright disturbing, the foreign. But this all adds to the reasoning of this Backyard Global recommendation. ‘Oldboy’ shows us that really pushing the boundaries is a thing of foreign cinema. Hollywood will always be a few steps behind films like this, even if it does try to imitate them ten years later with lame remakes (sorry, Josh).

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