Viking Night: Oldboy
By Bruce Hall
August 6, 2013
Beautiful things can become terrible things when they turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, water is the basis of all life, as well as a great way to get yourself killed. Solitude can be a useful tool for reflection as well as a slippery slide into madness. And love...well, we've all been on both sides of that one. Park Chan-wook's Oldboy is a haunting, tragic film about all these beautiful, terrible things and more. It's not the kind of film you “enjoy”; it’s the kind of film you have to just surrender yourself to and simply “experience”. It's the kind of film that hollows you out like a melon and keeps you up at night, questioning everything you think about everyone you know.
It's also a film about how judging other people makes it harder to be objective about yourself. And it's hard not to take the bait and judge Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) when we meet him, drunk and chained to a bench in a police station. Dae-su is a Korean businessman who has a little trouble saying no to the sauce, and finds himself in the drunk tank the night of his daughter's birthday. After a friend bails him out, he decides to stop at a payphone and drunk dial his little girl. Like all the best boozehounds, Dae-su doesn't seem to realize he's reached the end of his rope. Or at least, it seems that way - until he wakes up the next morning, trapped inside a hotel room with nothing but a television to keep him company.
Sounds like a couch potato's dream, right? Well it would be, except there's no way out. Every day someone slides a plate of dumplings under the door, and every night gas is pumped into the room to put him to sleep and keep him docile. Eventually the television informs him that his wife has been found murdered, he is the main suspect, and his only daughter has been placed with a foster family. Clearly this has something to do with his imprisonment, but no one ever speaks to him, and no explanation for his imprisonment is ever given. He even attempts suicide, only to awake the next day, stitched up and good to go. With his life destroyed and death out of reach, there's nothing to do but plan revenge against his unseen captors. He punches holes in the wall to stay fit, keeps a journal of his increasingly desperate thoughts, and develops a discerning taste for dumplings.
Then, after 15 years, he's mysteriously released. Finding the job market for suspected murderers a little thin, Oh Dae-su wanders the streets, his thirst for vengeance beginning to wane as the reality of his situation begins to set in. Things change when his kidnapper (Yu Ji-tae) makes contact, taunting Dae-su to unravel the mystery and face him. This he resolves to do, but plotting revenge for 15 years of torture can work up a powerful appetite. After he stops for a quick bite, Dae-su befriends a lovely young sushi chef named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), and ends up crashing at her apartment. When she learns of his predicament she offers to help, and the tech savvy teen and the half crazed, middle-aged murder suspect set about scouring the city for clues to who has stolen Dae-su's life, and why.