Oldeuboi [Oldboy] (2003)

(On DVD, September 2011) I really should have seen Oldboy earlier: Not only had it gotten widespread praise everywhere I looked, but I should know more about a popular director like Park Chan-wook.  Oh well; there’s a time for everything, including watching Oldboy.  From the get-go, we’re in interesting territory.  Much like Quentin Tarantino, Chan-wook can’t help but play around with the grammar of cinema, and even the more familiar moments of the story have a cinephile kick to them.  Not that there are many familiar moments, given the unusual premise: A seemingly ordinary man is held prisoner in a room for fifteen years, then abruptly released and encouraged to seek vengeance.  The identity of the captor is a brief mystery as he quickly reveals himself to ask the hero to find out why he’s been held fifteen years.  It’s easy to see why Oldboy got so much praise, with its mysteries upon mysteries, with a stylish sense of storytelling and a conclusion that upends the vengeance motif.  Slickly executed and filled with odd little moments, this is a movie whose foreign origins make even better, as we’re plunged in contemporary South Korea for a thriller that would play just as effectively anywhere else.  If, at times, it’s hard to differentiate between cultural barriers and the film’s elliptical sense of storytelling, it wraps up decently and doesn’t leave too many loose ends lying around.  (On the other hand, the plot does get more and more far-fetched as it progresses, but given the premise, that’s to be expected.)  Oldboy does live up to its great reviews; don’t wait as long as I did to see it.

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