Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You Can’t Teach an Oldboy New Tricks

Oldboy (2003) would be a whodunit, only the “who” is revealed before the film’s halfway point. So—it’s more of a whydunit, with a highly unsatisfying “why.” The story concerns a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for fifteen years, and then released. Hunting down his captor, the prisoner rediscovers the youthful guilt that so inspired his captor’s revenge, Neither party can live with the guilt; one commits suicide, and the other undergoes hypnosis. Vengeance is whine.


John said...

First time visitor, I came here from Pacze's site, but I can't let your dismissal of Oldboy go without a rebuttal. The movie, my absolute favourite of 2004, is an absolute peach of extreme cinema; an almost flawless exploration of revenge and the ravages of time on the mind. Add to that the wonderfully choreographed action sequences and the highly stylised and beautifully composed photography and you've got one of the best Korean films of the past decade. Parks film is utterly original, deeply intellectual and superbly, almost mathematically, structured. The unknown manipulator calls to mind David Fincher’s The Game, crossed with Death Wish or Straw Dogs, films that ask how far one can be pushed before one pushes back. I'll grant you that the grand guignol gets a little strained as we approach the slightly overcooked denoument, but as a meditation on rage and revenge played out as a furious opera, the intense, visceral Old Boy made my head spin. I loved it, and have since sought out his Sympathy For... films, The Humanist and Anarchists and, likewise, was hugely impressed. His is an awesome talent.

Pacze Moj said...

I like the idea of the "whydunit". It's a great way to describe the experience of watching the film -- the first time. But I think Oldboy is a fine film because it works so well on subsequent viewings. Once you know the what and the why, it takes on a fatalistic angle. There are so many chances for the main character to stop his quest, which we know will end badly, that it's painful to watch him continue on. The film goes from shock to tragedy. I liked it both times, but it was more thought-provoking and powerful the second.

Cinema Journal said...

Pacze Moj and John--

Thank you both for your viewpoints. I have to agree with both of you on certain points, John's description "meditation on rage and revenge" is very accurate, and Pacze Moj is right about how many chances the protagonist has to stop his quest--this reminds me of "Cache," in many ways. For me, however, there were just too many catches that I had to accept in order for the story to be played out. The extremity of revenge, and the lengths gone to achieve it, were too far fetched for myself.

A friend heard my criticisms with Oldboy today and reccomended Sympathy for Lady Vengeance--I'll be on the lookout for that one.