Revenge Is a Dish Best Served With the Claw-End of a Hammer

Columbus Alive | August 18, 2005
The most viscerally violent, artfully filigreed, adrenaline-pumping piece of revenge drama to hit American screens since the sprawling epic Kill Bill, Korean sensation Oldboy finally makes it to Columbus, courtesy of Studio 35. While Quentin Tarantino’s two-parter is the closest American touchstone, Oldboy is much more serious business, a story unto itself rather than one propped up by allusions to older films.

Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-Su, a heavy-drinking middle-aged man who is abducted one night and awakens to find himself imprisoned in what looks like a hotel room. He doesn’t know why he was abducted or who did it, and he spends the next 15 years there wondering, while training to fight, watching TV, plotting revenge and going more than a little bit crazy.

Released as suddenly as he was captured, he learns he’s traded the tiny prison for a larger one, as his abductor continues to monitor him. The abductor soon reveals that if Oh Dae-Su doesn’t figure out who he is and why he was captured, he’ll kill the young sushi chef who has taken to helping Oh Dae-Su, just as he’d previously killed his wife during the 15 year imprisonment.

Director Chan-wook Park fills Oldboy with incredibly beautiful set pieces, from Oh Dae-Su devouring a live octopus (no special effects here—three octopi were hurt in the production of this film) to increasingly strange visions of ants to a chase between our protagonist and his memory of himself through an Escher-like schoolyard to his breathtaking fist-battle through an army of thugs that was done in one long, single take.

The violence is often eye-averting—Oh Dae-su’s weapon of choice is the claw side of a hammer—but it’s tempered by surreal beauty and Park’s sly visual wit. The film also contains at least one twist that would knock M. Night Shyamalan out of his chair and evoke thumbs up from Shakespeare and the ancient Greek tragedians. Park pushes all of the audience’s buttons throughout—well, not so much “pushes” as pounds with a hammer.

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