Not everyone likes the over-the-top extremist or surrealistic take of Korean films. For the haters, here is a little exercise to change your opinions. Skip to the 43rd minute of ‘Oldboy’ and keep watching for the next 3 minutes. I can bet my life that you would go back and start watching the movie from the beginning. Such is the brilliance of ‘Oldboy’.
The most important step that a viewer of ‘Oldboy’ should take after he has completed watching the movie is – watch the movie again. Multiple viewings of the film are an absolute necessity to completely grasp the film’s metaphors and parallels. Watch the film for the first time and you will be amazed by the plot and narrative. Watch the film again and you will bow before the brilliance of Park Chan-wook’s filmmaking.
The film deviates from the usual path of the revenge thrillers. The film asks the question of whydunit rather than whodunit. The plot revolves around a rather drunk and abusive individual, Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min‑sik) who is imprisoned in a pseudo-prison for 15 long years. After he is released, he is consumed by the idea of revenge. The film takes us through his journey to find the answers as to why he was imprisoned. While on this journey, he meets Mido (Kang Hye-jung), a lady chef and they begin to form a bond. The end leaves us awestruck as we start understanding the truth behind every action and the reactions that followed.
The mastery in the story lies in one very subtle and delicate concept. In films of this type, in which a villain seeks to transfer his suffering onto his target, there’s a sense of the villain seeking empathy. But as usual, the hero cannot identify with the villain and judges the villain’s deeds as monstrous. But it is then that the story provides us with a check mate. The villain in ‘Oldboy’ wants the hero to see and to feel his pain. He wants the hero to commit the same crime that he has committed and to then judge himself and consequently the villain. For the sensitive and subtle villain, there’s no victory greater than getting the hero to see — and even to feel from — his perspective.
Director Park Chan-wook is very poetic throughout his film. The main character often refers to the world as the bigger prison. At the beginning we are presented with the quote, “Be it a grain of sand or a rock, in water they sink the same”, which reflects that Oh Dae-su does not know whether he did something small or big to Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji‑tae) in order to get imprisoned.