Oldboy (2003)

There are times when your best weapons are a hammer, a smile and a complete disregard for death.Oldboy, a Korean film by Chan Wook Park (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), is difficult to compartmentalize. Part action, part thriller, with a little bit of romance and a lot of heart, it is at once funny and tragically poetic.

Choi Min-Sik stars as Dae-Su, a businessman who gets a little too drunk on his daughter’s birthday party and gets arrested for disorderly conduct. After making bail, he is mysteriously imprisoned, drugged and tortured for 15 years in what appears to be a cheap motel room that boasts as its only decoration a macabre poster of a man’s face with the caption “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” After being unexpectedly and unceremoniously released on the spot he was taken, Dae-Su sets out with vengeance in mind, despite the fact that he has no idea who had taken him, or why.

With the help of Mi-Do (Hye-Jong Kang) a sushi waitress with a heart as big as the sea and bizarre notions of romance, and No Joo-Hwan (Dae-Han Ji), an old school friend who runs an internet café, he finds out the “who” but is informed that he only has five days to figure out the “why”. If he doesn’t make that deadline, everyone he loves will be killed. What follows is a journey through the labyrinth of truth, rumors and lies, which Dae-Su must sift through and match up with his slowly and painfully returning memories.

Choi Min-Sik is so stunning in his transformation from innocuous everyman to a bringer of death that at times it’s hard to reconcile that these two characters are played by the same man. His performance is filled with such rage and despair that you weep when he smiles, and shout with joy when he kills. With nods to Kafka and Hitchcock, Chan Wook Park has crafted a script that embraces the surreal and reminds you that such things are possible, if only in our darkest nightmares. The resolution is hard to take, but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you agree, as long as you understand.

Oldboy is possibly the best film I’ve seen all year. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, as the fight scenes, as well as the tender moments, are brutally violent in their separate ways. But if you can stomach some hammer bashing and a particularly harsh descent into madness and love, this is the flick for you. Enjoy.

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