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Oldboy: Or, don't piss Koreans off!
I had seen one previous movie by Chanwook Park ("Sympathy for Lady Vengeance," the third in Park's Vengeance trilogy, of which this movie is the second), and quite liked it, for the unrelenting grayness of its morality, its extremely strange and offbeat humor, and the surprising directions the story went that I legitimately not expect. I decided to check out "Oldboy" because I liked his earlier film so much, and because of two particular scenes in "Oldboy" I had heard about: namely, where the main character eats a live octopus (which, for realism's sake, was created by the actor playing him literally eating a live octopus on camera) and an extended one take fight scene as our hero fights his way down a very long hallway.
So was I satisfied with what I saw? For the most part yes. The basic plot revolves around a Korean salaryman named Oh Dae-Su, fairly unremarkable except for his amazing ability to piss off people, disappearing one night after being rescued from a police drunk tank by his friend Joo-hyoon. He has been taken by a mysterious organization who imprisons people for extended periods in hotel-like prison cells for money. Whoever ordered Oh Dae-Su's imprisonment obviously wanted him gone, as he stays stuck in the room for 15 years. Just when it looks like Oh Dae-Su is going to be able to tunnel his way out of the room (due to years of persistence), he is suddenly freed, given a nice suit, a cellphone, and a wallet full of money, and told that he has 5 days to figure out who imprisoned him and why. With the help of Joo-hyoon and a friendly young female sushi chef named Mi-do, Oh Dae-Su has to wreak revenge on a man who hates him for a reason he can't even fathom.
First of all, the acting is wonderful. Choi Min-Sik as Oh Dae Su is able to depict this incredibly emotionally complex character, who shifts from anger to fear to despair to confusion to pleading in seconds and makes each emotion incredibly believable. He's particularly good at an incredibly strange expression Oh Dae-Su copied from a poster on his wall, which told "laugh, and the world laughs with you, weep, and you weep alone." Therefore, when he's feeling sad, Dae Su has a tendency to manifest the creepiest smile imaginable, through which you can see his pain.
Also wonderful is the villain, played by Yu Ji-tae. His self-satisfaction is evident in each scene he's in, as he seemingly effortlessly manipulates poor Dae Su with an amused smile on his face. He's the sort of villain you want to loathe but can't help but love because he is so charming. The one problem with his character is Yu Ji-tae's age: his character and Oh Dae-Su are supposed to be of approximately the same age, yet Cho Min-sik is 14 years older than his counterart. It really is quite jarring to have someone who looks so young have to play a character who much be in his 40s or 50s by the time the movie takes place.
My one other gripe with the movie is that it makes the villain too all-powerful. This makes Oh Dae-Su seem weak, even though we had seen his strength and determination beforehand. There is never a minute when the villain is not in control, and this made the hero rather hard to root for. There is a distinct possibility the ending of this movie will piss you off, it's so mean-spirited.
If you hate creepy sex or gore, do not watch this movie either. It's full of both (mostly the violence), and it's quite easy to get squicked out. Try to avoid getting bogged down in either, and enjoy the strange plot and delightful characters.
All in all, a great film with an ending that will quite possibly piss you off. but if you're OK with that, by all means go full speed ahead. This is the sort of movie that every cinefile should watch at least once. I d recommend it, with the caveat that the ending irritated me to a great deal.