[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B000TQLJ14][/pullquote] In 2003 Park Chan-Wook released Oldboy, the second in a thematically connected trilogy between Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance (guess what the theme is). As well as being part of this loose trilogy of revenger’s tragedies, OldBoy is also a loose adaptation of a Manga series that ran between 1996 and 1998 “ an eight volume piece of work, spanning 79 chapters.
The film begins with Oh Dae-Su, an ordinary guy who has had a little too much to drink, finding himself in the police station. Drunk and disorderly, he creates a nuisance of himself until a friend arrives to take him home. On their way back Dae-Su stops at a payphone to speak briefly to his wife and daughter. And then he disappears.
Dae-Su then finds himself held in a cell quite unlike the benign captivity of the police station. His new home is a little room, with a hatch for food and a guard who refuses to speak to him. Here Dae-Su is held captive for fifteen long years, with no explanation. He learns that his wife has been murdered while he has been in his cell, and he learns that he has been framed for the crime, but he doesn’t learn the reason for his captivity, or who is behind it, or why they set him up but then made him unfindable to the police. However, he swears vengeance on the unknown man who has done this to him. He trains relentlessly and uses a chopstick to, over the course of years, dig a secret hole in the wall. He thinks he is a month away from escape, when suddenly and without explanation, he is released and has to find a way to adapt to the ˜slightly larger prison’ of the outside world, while hunting down his captor and finding out the reason for his ordeal.
OldBoy is visually stunning, with Park Chan-Wook’s visual flair to the fore in a number of scenes. Sometimes this flair is applied to some fairly extreme situations “ the movie is fairly well-known for the scene in which Dae-Su eats a live octopus (which the actor Choi Min-Sik, as a Buddhist, found rather traumatic). As well as this, teeth are pulled, shots are fired and Dae-Su finds that a trusty hammer is his ally. The escalating, operatic violence means this isn’t a film for everyone, even though much of this violence occurs offscreen.
It’s a superbly paced film and the audience is drawn along as Dae-Su tries to uncover the secret of who kept him captive and who, since his release, seems to have him dangling like a puppet on a string, drip feeding him tantalising bits of information. The far-fetched plot works because it sets its own terms early on “ hyper-real, almost melodramatic, it sets up the rules of its reality, and even if they don’t match our experience of the world (for example, the police are mysteriously absent throughout) it’s consistent to itself.
There’s little characterisation attempted in OldBoy “ everyone is somewhat two-dimensional, but they are all so swept up in the plot that it hardly matters. Dae-Su’s desperation to reach the truth is transferred to the audience “why on earth has this man gone through his ordeal? What could he possibly have done? As the mystery is unravelled, horror is piled on top of horror to an almost overwhelming extent.