Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung
Among all the movies I have seen in 2004, Park Chan-wook's Old Boy (2003) was without doubt the one that impressed me most. From the script to the direction, and from the acting to the production value, everything is top-notch and surprisingly good. It is no wonder why this film could capture the grand prix award at Cannes Film Festival and win tons of acclaims and awards at the domestic film awards ceremonies.
The story of the film is fascinating. Loosely adapted from a Japanese comic, it inherits the thematic approach of director Park's previous work Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, that is, it is a story about retaliation. It centers on a man called Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik). He is jailed privately for 15 years without knowing the reason. When he gets out from the cell, he is determined to dig out the truth and searches for the mastermind. From a theoretical standpoint, this story outline is perhaps little surrealistic, no matter the idea of jailing someone for 15 years or the use of hypnosis, it just seems little absurd. But then starting from the beginning shot of the movie, with Oh holding the tie of a miserable guy on the rooftop of a building, the highly stylistic camera angle and vigorous background music already tell us that it is not a movie about ordinary people.
Director Park Chan-wook has perfectly demonstrated his creativity and confidence in this movie. His camera is especially wild and energetic. The transitions between each scene are smooth and the camera movements always succeed in enhancing the atmospheres and emotions. The most notable scene is probably the one long take fight scene in the hallway of the private prison. Same as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the general mood of the movie is quite desperate, but the director's approach is just the opposite. Instead of slowing down the pace and putting more emphasis on the composition, Park Chan-wook focuses more on the montage this time. His aesthetic choices are also much more visually stunning and extravagant. Violence plays a big part in this movie. Many of the violent scenes are very brutal yet exquisite. Classical music are used to accompany the bloody scenes to intensify the romance of violence. If Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is an elegant but down-to-earth housewife, then Old Boy is certainly a glamorous celebrity who enjoys the spotlight.
Apart from the technical advance, Park is also a gifted storyteller. He is good at manipulating the emotions and the attentions of the audiences by his excellent and precise control of the structure of the narrative. None of the scene is too short or too long. They always surprise the audiences at the right moment and almost refuse to give them a break. The theme is also presented clearly, that is, revenge could become an endless game if one doesn't know how to forgive.
Just as mentioned above, this movie was an award grabber in South Korea. In addition to the best director awards, Choi Min-sik was also a big winner as he has captured almost all the best actor awards he was nominated for. Honestly speaking, if it's not because of Choi's superb and flawless performance as Oh Dae-su, whether this movie would be such a great success is certainly a big question. Same as Choi, Yoo Ji-tae also gives out an engaging portrayal as the ruthless antagonist. His cold and apathetic personality parallels perfectly to the impetuous and frantic Choi Min-sik.
Old Boy is an excellent and entertaining work that demonstrates how far commercial cinema could go. If you are tired of the formulated and cliched Hollywood flicks, perhaps it is time to check out what Asian cinema has to offer.
Cool guy(s) - Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae
Reviewed by: Kantorates