Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Movie reviews

  • 14 May 2006

A world of brutal grace Oldboy, dir. Chan-wook Park.

Drunk in a police waiting room, Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) sings, falls over, is handcuffed to a bench, ties his shirt tails like a girlie pop star and slurs his way through a variety of drunken wisdoms. Pathetic and hilarious. When finally a friend picks him up, he stumbles out into the rain, and disappears into a sea of umbrellas—for 15 years. Park opens Oldboy beautifully, introducing his characters in pieces—snatches of flashbacks and flashforwards, drunkenness disguising reality and violence blurring niceties. Park drops you, with a brutal grace, into a world that is part adult fairy tale, part children’s nightmare. Dae-su Oh wakes in a small room. There is a TV, a bed, a picture of a window and a locked door, under which food is pushed. The TV is his only company, his window on the world. It tells him who’s tops in the celebrity-TV-chef world, what pop songs are riding the charts and that he’s murdered his wife—all with high-key, popular TV enthusiasm, working as both comforter and torturer. For every year he is held captive he tattoos the back of his hand with a line. A mark of remembrance. A map of vengeance. Until finally on the eve of the 15th stroke he finds himself in a suit on a roof with a mobile phone and a heart as black as anything Edgar Allan Poe could have imagined. Despite the bleak premise of Park’s second film in his vengeance trilogy (the first being Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) it is wonderfully funny and has a twisted sense of play. Park moves deftly from gut-wrenching, physical confrontation to playful love-making in a single intake of breath. As often as not you’ll find yourself laughing in the midst of the most visceral nastiness. And it works. Reminiscent of Takeshi Kitano in his 1997 masterpiece, Hana-Bi, Park has the same finesse when it comes to combining art and violence. Not to mention that they share a laconic pacing that messes perfectly with the audience’s expectations—casually tossing you little crumbs of information, and then, bang, into the jaws of the lion. Oldboy plays nimbly with time—moving through great swathes of it with unexpected edits and a wily structure. The cinematography (Jeong-hun Jeong) reflects perfectly the film’s surreal, noirish edge, mixing extremes of contrast with an almost comic-book palette. Oldboy doesn’t baulk at the strange and unnerving.