Oldboy (2013) — Playing the long game of revenge

“If they had told me it was going to be fifteen years, would it have been easier to endure?”

Justin’s rating: So I get dental with this?

Justin’s review: Picture this. A seemingly innocent if annoying man is abducted from his normal life and family and then thrown into a creepy-looking hotel room with no means of escape. There he sits, bewildered as to his crime, for 15 years. On the television, he finds out that his wife is murdered and he’s been framed for it. He goes crazy. He fosters hatred for whoever did this to him. He watches endless television, trains his body by punching a wall, and grows ever older. He writes countless lists of the people he’s wronged. He stares at an unnerving painting that stands guard over the room.

Then, one day, he’s let go with no explanation, no clues as to his captors, only told that he must find out the reason behind his imprisonment in five days’ time, or else. Thus begins the journey of Dae-su Oh, who descends into a film noir world of vengeance and revelation, yanking us along whether we like it or not. Also, yanking not just a few teeth along the way. “Ouch” is the word you’re looking for.

I don’t know about you, but just by hearing the premise of Oldboy, I was definitely hooked. The premise alone is interesting enough, but when I finally experienced this film I was blown through the outer wall of my apartment, making a Justin-shaped hole that will be very hard to explain to the landlord. I had assumed that this would end up being a straight-forward revenge martial arts festival of sorts — hi-ya, hi-ya, chop, chop, dead, life is good again — but that’s not even close to what Oldboy turned out to be. Think The Count of Monte Cristo mushed together with Cube and stirred with the essence of key film noir, and you might get closer to the truth.

Dae-su Oh gets a terrific voice-over narration throughout the flick, reminding me not just a bit of the video game Max Payne. The growly voice and Dae-su’s weathered face match up well together as he goes on his quest. Painfully yet doggedly, he pursues the truth behind his 15-year punishment, determined to get some answers, and then get some serious face-bashing on.

Here, I have to end whatever plot I might reveal. I simply cannot spoil this movie for you, but just point you in its general direction. It’s definitely not a film for some people. There’s graphic violence and extremely disturbing themes that take place to make anyone feel slightly sick by the time the end credits roll. That’s what we in the critic profession call a “minus.”

On the other hand, my saluting hand, it’s a brilliant mystery slathered all over a visually stirring flick. I was sitting on the edge of my couch by the end, being slammed by twist after twist, until it ended and I just had to admire it, even if I didn’t like what it had to say. What makes it more aggravating is that the director makes the story so that there’s no way we could know about half of the mystery until it’s explained to us, but he carefully places enough clues for the observant and deductive viewer to at least get part of it before the grand finale.

Oldboy is a great modern film noir. Although not quite as much as Sin City, Oldboy has a distinctive “graphic novel” feel to its shots and stark camerawork, which helps greatly to give this whole movie an otherworldly feel to it.

My mutant powers fail me as I search for a way to wrap up this review. I want to recommend it, but I also want to warn people away. Probably, both of those might prompt everyone to see it. Can’t say I didn’t encourage ya! And caution ya!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s