president of the jury at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino
lobbied hard on behalf of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy,
but his fellow jurors were dead set on giving the Palme d’Or to Fahrenheit 9/11. You have to wonder how well that politically
motivated decision sits with Kathleen Turner and Tilda Swinton, in
retrospect. In contrast, Tarantino’s
judgment looks sound as a pound, particularly in light of a once prominent
director’s decision to remake Oldboy in
a desperate attempt to maintain his relevancy.
Viewers should accept no substitutes when Park’s original Oldboy (trailer here) returns to New York theaters tomorrow.
Dae-sul is completely awful at being a husband, father, and businessman. Generally, he is an all around despicable
human being, but he will pay. After a
drunken bender, Oh wakes up confined to a seedy hotel room, which is actually a
cell in an underground prison. For the
next fifteen years, he will remain secretly confined there, while his nemesis
frames him for the murder of his wife.
no apparent reason, Oh is suddenly released, but it quickly becomes clear the
shadowy mastermind has simply moved on to the next phase of his scheme. With his daughter adopted by foreign parents,
the solitary pariah crashes with Mi-do, the young sushi chef in the restaurant
he passed out in. As Oh pursues
vengeance and answers, the question becomes “why” rather than “who.” Of course,
he will be returning to that prison and he’s bringing a hammer (nope, Spike
didn’t come up with that bit).
Oldboy is the perfect film for
Thanksgiving because it features one of the most memorable celebratory meals ever
filmed. You’ll know it when you see
it. Yes, it has its share of graphic
violence and shocking subject matter that would be spoilery to reveal. However, the psychological torment is far
more unsettling than the physical beatdowns.
By the time it reaches its climax, Oldboy
absolutely strips Oh emotionally bare—and he is not the only one to have
his psyche ripped open in the process.
with Oldboy and continuing with Nameless Gangster and New World, Choi Min-sik has staked a
claim as one of the world’s preeminent screen actors, doing the sort of work Robert
De Niro should have done instead of slumming in dozens of Meet the Parents sequels.
Choi has that sort of magnetic presence and visceral physicality. Thanks
to his powerhouse turn, Oldboy rises
to the level of classical tragedy. He is
nicely abetted by the ethereal Kang Hye-jung as the disarmingly waifish Mi-do.
Part noir and part fairy tale, Oldboy is defiantly ambiguous at times,
but never nihilistic. It has an indescribable
vibe light years removed from most filmmakers’ comfort zones. Remaking (or re-conceiving or whatever term
they might want to use) it is a highly questionable proposition, doomed to
failure whenever hipper audiences compare it to the original. Avoid shoddy counterfeits and check out Park
Chan-wook’s Old Boy. Highly recommended for the adventurous, it
opens tomorrow (11/29) in New York at the Quad Cinemas and streams (now with
subtitles) on Netflix.
Labels: Choi Min-sik, Korean Cinema, Park Chan-wook