Incest is kind of hot.
Sometimes movies get a reputation. Even before you see Oldboy, you probably hear about it. People talk in hushed whispers out the ending and a scene so disturbing that they dare not even say what happens. As my time living in South Korea was winding down, I finally got around to viewing what most people consider to be the quintessential film from that country. Oldboy is another example of South Korea's pretty good film-making industry and a mighty fine revenge movie.
One day, the alcoholic Oh Dae-Su wakes up in a hotel room that he can't leave. Fifteen years later he is released with no idea who or why this happened to him. His family is dead and he has only 5 days to get revenge on the man who imprisoned him. From there things get weird. The film is directed by one of the big names in Korean cinema, Park Chan-Wook and was a surprise hit outside of Korea as well. The film has received exceptionally good reviews, it even won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes, and has become something of a cult phenomenon over the last few years. The question becomes, does Oldboy live up the the hype or is it just another obscure foreign film that has attracted a plethora of followers because of it's graphic content and twisted plot?
At it's core, Oldboy is a revenge movie, but that would be oversimplifying it and taking away one of the things that makes it truly watchable. Often times movies with plot twists feel cheap, but that's not the case here. Oldboy does a pretty good job of keeping you guessing and comes at you hard when the time comes. It's gut-wrenching and rewarding when it all comes together. The movie's violence, while it definitely maintains the feel of the film's comic book origins, is pretty well done and the climax of the movie is seriously one of the most cringe-worthy moments in recent cinema. The climax alone has a lot to do with why the movie is so memorable. Like other films out of South Korea, Oldboy is beautifully put together. The cinematography and editing are great and the performances are solid across the board. A country could do much worse than having a movie like Oldboy as it's flagship film. It might not be the best movie for the squeamish, but Oldboy is definitely a solid place to start if you want to get into an Asian film culture that isn't Japan.