#69: Oldboy (2003)

When and how did I watch this?

December 11th, 2016, on Netflix.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Almost nothing: I knew it was a Korean film, and I noticed its release date.

What do I know about it now?

It’s a psychological thriller akin to Memento and borrowing heavily from the theme of vengeance presented in The Count of Monte Cristo (book or film — take your pick). Most of the foreign films have been stunning pieces of work, but none have had as many twists and turns as Oldboy.  Perhaps the closest to it has been Infernal Affairs. It starts off in mysterious fashion.  Much like the protagonist himself, we have very little idea what’s going on: Dae-Su is kidnapped, and then placed in a hotel room doubling as a prison.  He goes through the delirium and panic stages, mostly associated with never seeing his family again, and then being framed for having killed his wife, which he learns from a television in the room. He starts readying himself for certain revenge once he escapes.  Fifteen years pass, and the real story begins as he starts looking for answers.  Details emerge based on some sleuth work as well as seeming coincidence.  Once Dae-su remembers some details from his youth, the pieces start coming together and the viewer is throttled through one of the more shocking conclusions in film. While some of the film played out like an action flick, most of it was emotionally driven, having mostly to do with Mi-do, whose relationship with Dae-su turns out to be more complicated than we could possibly imagine. There are several beautiful scenes, humorous situations inserted throughout, and some unexpected graphic violent sequences. The coloring used in the film is also stunning, reminding me of the urban kaleidoscope presented in Taxi Driver; often times, the environment’s role in a scene is just as important as any other aspect.

What are some themes in the film?

Revenge, fate, truth and honesty, hypnosis, the human condition

Did this affect me personally?

Yes.  Woo-jin’s last laugh and turn, then demise, is a nice nod to some dramas of antiquity.

Why is this ranked #69?

This film is internationally renowned. Clearly it deserves the accolades, but it’s nice to see the film voted high on this list, likely propelled by Asian voters. I don’t think most Americans have even heard of this one.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She ended up watching all of this one.  She was shaking through much of it.

Would I watch it again?

I believe I would.  Some of the scenes are pretty gruesome, but it’s certainly an entertaining film.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This one looks just like the films that “everyone” has seen, and at times even feels like a Tarantino film, but it’s written better. Most of my friends would love this.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yes indeed.  It doesn’t feel like the classics that crowd the top of the IMDb Top 250, nor does it resort to artistic violence, graphic sex, or strong language (although it does feature all of those elements to a limited degree) to prop it up as a must-see film.  It stands out as something unique to me, telling the old story about a man looking hard for the truth, but done in such a way, almost entirely from the first-person perspective, so we begin to wear the man’s shoes and fight along with him.  And when you have the viewer doing this, immersed and enraptured in everything happening and hanging onto every detail, you have something great going.

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