Oldboy; Thriller/Drama, South Korea, 2003; D: Chan-wook Park, S: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yoo, Hye-jung Gang, Dae-han Ji
Seoul. The drunk Oh Dae-su has been interrogated by the police and that's why he wasn't able to come to his little daughter's birthday. After his friend bails him out, Dae-su gets kidnapped on the street and put into a closed prison room without anyone telling him why. There he learns from TV that his wife has been killed and his daughter put to adoption. After 15 long years, as mysterious as he has been captured, Dae-su gets released from the prison room. Aimlessly wondering on the streets, he can only think about revenge. Under strange circumstances he meets a girl, Mido, and falls in love with her. He gets a call from a mysterious Woo-jin who tells him that he is the man who captured him. Dae-su starts investigating and finds out Woo-jin was attending the same school as he did. Not only that, Dae-su saw him having an incestuous relationship with his sister and told everyone about it in the school, making the sister commit suicide. After Dae-su confronts him, Woo-jin gives him a photo album. There Dae-su finds out that Mido was actually his log lost daughter and that he had intercourse with her. Woo-jin commits suicide, while Dae-su gets hypnotized to forget everything.
In 2003, one film helped put South Korean cinema on the map. Before it, almost nobody from the Western audiences wanted to watch a South Korean film, but millions were attracted like crazy to see this one and didn't want to miss it. Chan-wook Park's "Oldboy", winner of the Grand Prix award in the film festival in Cannes, is an extreme and radical story in the finest manner of Greek tragedy because it placed Sophocles' myth about the Oedipus complex upside down and merged it with the themes about revenge, love and truth, making some of the critics call it a "virtuoso nonsense". The film is truly disturbing and uncomfortable because it is directly showing the the most hidden human fears about loss and is directed in such an powerfull manner that not even the obvious flaws seem to matter (a clumsy sequence in the hall in which Dae-su manages to single handily beat about 30 people), nor the illogical situations (control with hypnosis).
Some would also complain about the very reason Woo-jin decided to take revenge on Dae-su; he saw him having an incestuous relationship with his sister and told everyone in school about it, so in a way he had a big mouth, but if their love was so strong she eventually had to come to surface and would have been able to survive. This film is not for everyone - already the controversial moment where the angry hero eats a live squid is bound to shock - but it shows the theme of human need for self-respect in such a fierce way that it leaves nobody cold, giving directly that what the European cinema lost a long time ago. From the first scene up to the dark finale with a devastating plot twist, "Oldboy" is a radical film, but a one that managed to look universally intriguing, not just limited by Korean culture. In a way, it's a perfect nightmare - the question is only if some will regard it more as perfect, or more as a nightmare.