Saturday, January 03, 2009
A Cult Classic Lives Up To The Hype
A few years back, there was a big buzz about a violent Korean revenge thriller called Old Boy (2003). It tells the story of a man who has been imprisoned in a room for 15 years without being told why it is being done to him. While imprisoned, his wife is murdered and he is framed for it. He has no idea what becomes of his daughter and uses TV as a link to the outside world. After 15 years, he is suddenly released and given a mission: He has five days to find his captor and figure out why he was imprisoned. With the help of a sympathetic female sushi chef, he takes his shot.
It's a good set up and the story goes through a variety of twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. The lead actor, Choi Min Sik, is dynamite as the put upon Dae Su. He makes the character's journey believable, starting as a drunken lout and then changing to a man determined for revenge while still retaining his original personality. Min Sik's performance is boundless, running the gambit from fierce fighter to grovelling vulnerability sometimes in the same scene.
Directed by Park Chan-Wook, the film is well told using that over saturated color style that was popular in the mid-90's to dramatic effect. Chan-Wook tells the story cleanly and in a slightly comic book style (particularly a part where he fights a gang of thugs in a hallway using a hammer, it is a wide out side scrolling shot very remiscent of comics). Not only does Chan-Wook get good performances out of his actors, he keeps the emotion flowing through every scene.
That's the ultimate pull of Old Boy for me. It's like a litmus test because it thoroughly involves the viewer in its story. What if you were trapped in a room and not given a reason? How would you react when freed and teased with the possibility for knowledge and revenge? And what price would you pay for that vengeance, is the secret something you really want to know? When confronted with the truth, would you still be able to take your revenge?
Although I saw the main plot twist coming a mile away, the emotional impact is still powerful when the last pieces of this puzzle are put together. Old Boy lives up to its hype, a trip through the darkness of vengeance, forbidden love and focused hatred with uncompromising emotional brutality. And not since Memento (2001) has a plot twist driven film been this fun. Early on, the film dares you to take this trip by making you watch the recently released Dae Su demand a live octopus to eat at a sushi restaurant. It literally asks if you have the stomach for this. If you get past that scene, this movie is for you.