Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Garon Tsuchiya (story), Nobuaki Minegishi (manga).
Stars: Min-sik Choi (as Dae-su Oh), Ji-tae Yu (as Woo-jin Lee) and Hye-jeong Kang (as Mi-do)
I just watched Oldboy last night -- the original Korean version with subs, not the knockoff with Josh Brolin. It is surrealistic, violent and strange, but oddly satisfying. Scenes have been going through my head all day long.
Briefly, this is the plot: a man named Dae-su Oh is detained by the police when he becomes drunk and obnoxious while on his way home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. This entire opening sequence is used to establish that the man is self-centered, impulsive, rude and given to bursts of verbal and physical violence. His character is key to the rest of the film.
While the friend who bails him out of custody is talking to his wife in a pay telephone booth, Dae-su Oh disappears. During a lengthy exposition sequence afterward, we learn that he has been imprisoned by an unknown abductor, held in a prison apartment, fed a diet of dumplings that almost never varies and subjected to drugs and hypnosis.
He is imprisoned for 15 years. He learns from TV reports that he is being sought for the murder of his wife. His daughter, he is told, has been adopted by a Swedish foster family and now lives in Stockholm. He is completely alone: his only contact with fellow humans is the nameless, faceless guard that pushes his meals through a slot in the apartment door and the television in his “cell.”
Eventually he is put to sleep with gas and awakens on the roof of his prison, free but unable to contact his family. He has five days to learn who has done this to him and why. His search, which is being manipulated by his captor and tormentor, leads him down a number of dead ends and it isn’t until the last half hour of the film that the viewer slowly discovers why everything has happened.
The movie is adapted from a Japanese graphic serialization that appeared in Weekly Manga Action from 1996 to 1998. The eight volume graphic version contains 79 chapters that were released in Japan in 1997 and 1998.
The story is set in Japan in the original version and all the characters have Japanese names. The setting was changed to South Korea when Park adapted the comic version into a film script in 2003.
Two years later, Dark Horse Comics bought the rights to make an English translation of the book for its customers worldwide.
If you like stories in the noir tradition that are long on doom, this one has it in spades. Almost everyone in the film meets a bad end, and those who survive do so despite grueling physical and psychological torture.
Dae-su Oh, himself, meets a terrible fate and the film makes it clear that someone who lives through a horrible series of events may not necessarily be a survivor.