Old Boy (2005)
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Review Date: March 22, 2005
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writer: Park Chan-Wook, Lim Chun-hyeong, Hwang Jo-yun
Producers: Lim Sueng-yong
Choi Min-Sik as Dae-Su
Yu Ji-Tae as Woo-Jin Lee
Kang Hye-jeong as Mi-Do
A man, with a lovely wife and child, wakes up to find that he is locked up in a room/prison for a reason about which he's never told, by someone who he's never told about. Fifteen years later, he is let go, only with more questions than answers. He spends the rest of the film trying to find out who incarcerated him for all those hellish years and for what reason-and in relation to get revenge!!!
Now that's what I'm talking about! For this, the third film that I've seen at this year's Cannes Film Festival, I was finally blown away by something utterly original which not only managed to capture me both from an emotional and stylistic point of view, but an intellectual and mathematical one as well. Mathematical, you may be asking yourself? That's right, it's been a while since a film has managed to fuck with my head as much as this one did here, bringing out the same sort of feelings that I had while watching movies like MEMENTO, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and THE GAME. In fact, you can qualify this film as the Asian, much more sadistic version of Fincher's maze of questions, with a much greater emphasis on the why, rather than the "who" or the "what". What I especially loved about this film is how it placed me, the audience member, in the same place as the film's protagonist from scene one, basically being thrown into an extremely inhuman situation (being locked inside a room for 15 years without knowing why or who is doing it to you) and being asked to figure it out all as it comes. As the film progressed, clues provided and responses given, I discovered even more questions and theories sprouting about, until the film's finale just simply blew me for a loop. I'm not sure if this is just a trend, but there is a major Asian renaissance happening in the movie industry today and it is films like this, that re-confirm that Hollywood needs to get their shit together and come up with more creative ideas for cinematic entertainment. You and I both know that someone is going to buy the American rights to this film soon enough and remake it as an "American movie" starring some asshole from the WB and with a much gentler ending.

That's another thing that I loved about this movie and that was its uncompromising approach to the material and its ability to "keep the course" despite things getting quite graphic, both visually and mentally. In other words, these guys don't let up until the very end and it's a great thing to experience, even if things do go a little overboard nearing its conclusion (felt like 2-3 endings). Another aspect of the film which connected with me greatly was its visual approach, which wasn't as stylistic as you'd think, but included plenty of cool touches, particularly one wide-frame 4-minute shot of the lead fighting against a multitude of opponents, but all without cutting away once. It's a great shot and a defining moment in the movie. Another aspect that comes through very clearly in this film is its surreal nature. Throughout this affair, things get a little "dream-like" from time to time, feeling hyper-naturalistic at times, but it works under the circumstances, especially after you yourself, experience the film's first 10-15 minutes, alone in a room with a man losing his mind. The actors are also all great, specifically Choi Min-Sik, who plays the man on the edge brilliantly, as well as Kang Hye-Jeong, who is just plain adorable. The film is not a one-trick pony either. It's not just a matter of finding out why this act has been perpetrated upon this individual, but rather, once that's done, understanding the underlying reasons for any human being to cause such pain/suffering onto another. When you sit back and look at the big picture of the world, it's a perfect metaphor for what seems to be a place in which people will take a small ripple in the water and allow it to grow bigger and bigger, until the small ripple is now of much greater meaning.

If revenge is the theme in many American movies this year, OLD BOY fits right into that master plan, only it takes that vengeful attitude to a whole new absurdly sadistic level. Wow, and you thought you had vengeful tendencies? You gotta see what the folks in this movie do. Incredible!

Review originally written on May 15, 2004 after viewing at the Cannes Film Festival
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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