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Directed by Chan-wook Park.
Written by Chan-wook Park.  Based on the Japanese manga "Oldboy."
Starring Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  4/11/05


It won the Jury Grand Prix at Cannes last year, and I've been excited about seeing the Korean import "Oldboy" for some time now...and, this past Saturday, I got to see what all of the fuss is about.

The kind of film that will only get better with age, "Oldboy" follows a man named Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) that is initially thrown into a residential prison for 15 years without having any idea what he has done wrong.  Going slowly insane while in this prison, he plots only to get revenge on who or whatever has placed him there, since he has no clue as to what got him there or how much longer he will be in the cage.  After spending what seems like years digging a hole through his cell to get out of the building, he gets almost all the way there when he is simply granted his release one day and thrown out into the world with a few clothes and even fewer clues as to how he should start his search for truth.

That search takes him everywhere, and it's this search that makes the plot such fun to follow.  As he is given small clues along the path for justice, Dae-su meets a woman (Hye-jeong Kang) that gives him some assistance, a man (Ji-tae Yu) that is in touch with Dae-su's oppressors and a friend from high school (Dae-Han Chi) that may be one of the few people that can help.  Then, halfway through "Oldboy", the filmmakers tell you who is running the show, and Dae-su is given five days to figure out the mystery.  The ending is something for the ages, the kind of ending that leaves you with the dropped jaw effect and that smart ass next to you that has to say "See, I KNEW it!" even though there's no way he could have known.

I went to see this with Ross and his ladyfriend Anne, and all of us came out with the same thinking--"Oldboy" is solid.  The filmmaking is extraordinary; it's a violent film (that's just how it goes in Korean film) but so stylishly made that it gets away with it.  What other film can say that it's got excruciating torture scenes and beautiful moments of serenity?  A fist-fighting number that runs for almost two minutes, and by the end of it, you are laughing?  A suicide victim that falls from ten stories into a parked car...and, you feel worse for the dog he was holding when the psycho made impact?

It's got a little action, a lot of story, a "whoa" ending and endlessly great moments.  We as Americans don't do so well watching another man eat eel, so watching Dae-su consume a plateful of the live stuff is excruciating but awesome.  Dae-su will eventually come to face why it is that he was imprisoned for so long...and that why is one of the great twists in recent memory.  Little things, like child actors that really do look like they could grow up to look like their adult counterparts, struck me as out-of-the-ordinary.  The film's score was kooky; the constant close-ups of Dae-su looking completely insane work wonders as you are coaxed between feeling sad for this guy and thinking that the director is mocking Nicholson from "The Shining."  "Oldboy" even has a decent share of laughs, which is great considering how depressing some of this could have been.

I don't have one bad thing to say here--"Oldboy" is a fantastic film.  It will only be showing in major cities but if you live in one, check this bad boy out before somebody blows it for you. 

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09