Many words come to mind when trying to capture a film like Oldboy, a wonderful piece of Korean cinema by Director Park Chan-wook. Words like powerful, exhilarating, artful... But words like that may not make you any more inclined to get out and watch a film. Words like that are used to describe every picture released in the last year it seems, and they just may have lost their effect on you. So let's use a different set of words, for a film very worthy of being set apart from the rest.
Fascinating. Unsettling. Deliberate.
Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is an everyday man, living an ordinary life. One night after a solid night of drinking, he's kidnapped and dumped into a very unusual jail cell. No, not Guantanamo - but some other inexplicable private prison - one that seems almost like it's been built out of a cheap motel you've probably patronized at least once while on vacation; rooms complete with a television and shower. Except this is no vacation.
During his long stay in this makeshift prison where he is often drugged and psychologically manipulated, he soon discovers through his little TV set that his wife has been killed and he's been framed for her murder - complete with evidence and all - a blood sample taken from him while in his new home. Determined to get out and one day avenge all of this, Oh Dae-su turns his, well, desk-job body into a lean mean Deniro-esque machine. He eventually does get freed - but this is just the beginning of the story. From this point, you could say that Oh Dae-su's sole purpose for existing is to discover the truth - the truth of who could possibly have imprisoned him, and more importantly, why. And, as we all discover together, the truth we so avidly seek can be incredibly bitter and unwelcoming. If I told you any more you'd hate me.
Expect a thrilling cast, including Mido (Gang Hye-jung) playing a young and attractive sushi chef, the mysterious Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), and many others who help weave together a tale that, well, won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes.
The different types of Asian cinema are as varied and individual as they could be, but one thing we all have come to rely on is the cinematography. The photography. The artful placement of the lens. The motion of the camera itself. And while Oldboy may not have the serene landscapes of a Crouching Tiger, it does indeed show that same intrinsic love of the moving picture that we've come to expect of all types of Asian cinema. But make no mistake - this film is of the more rugged, raw and disturbing variety. It is as beautiful and good-humored as it is dark and foreboding.
If you liked the raw, unpredictable intrigue and the masterful thematics of dark films such as Seven, you will love Oldboy. Be prepared for the unexpected - there are twists and turns aplenty in this film, and don't think for a moment that you might have it all figured out - there's another surprise around every corner. And just like we've come to expect out of a lot of International cinema, you just can't tell how or when it's going to end-
Ali Imran Zaidi is a filmmaker, writer and web developer - shooting, banging on keyboards, and making web sites in the Orlando area.
Oldboy plays on Saturday, April 9, 2005 at Midnight at Regal Winter Park Village and Sunday, April 10, 2005 at 9:45pm at Regal Winter Park Village.