August 02, 2019
Limbs, teeth and live octopuses all come in for unblinkingly brutal treatment in Park Chan-wook’s stunning revenge epic
Oldboy review – a beautifully blood-spattered modern classic
Sixteen years ago, Park Chan-wook gave us this gobsmackingly horrible but demonically inspired thriller, based on the Japanese manga by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya, which came to epitomise the “Asia extreme” genre: a new frontier of extravagantly violent craziness. Since then, Park has advanced creatively by retreating into more conventional forms, most prominently with his masterly The Handmaiden. Nonetheless, Oldboy – now on re-release – remains a classic of the macabre that revived the spirit of Jacobean theatre for 21st-century cinema, and the centrepiece of Park’s “revenge trilogy”, alongside Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002) and Lady Vengeance (2005).
The film has consolidated its cult status, more or less undamaged by Spike Lee’s baffling English-language version in 2013, starring Josh Brolin. Choi Min-sik plays Dae-su, a boorish, drunken guy who one night discovers that he has an enemy – who is about to take a terrible revenge for something Dae-su can’t remember and for which he too will take vengeance in his turn. The torture visited on Dae-su is imprisonment, for a very long period of time. When he finally gets out, he is not the catatonically reduced ghost of a man we might expect: he is fired up and has evolved into a revenge machine, capable of anything (including eating a live octopus for the sheer hell of it, one of the great black-comic moments of Korean cinema). A walk on the wildest of wild sides.
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