Friday, April 29, 2005

[Film] Oldboy :: Spoilers ::

written by Jo-yun Hwang & Chun-hyeong Lim
*** ½ (out of 5)

Oldboy. It’s vile, hilarious and tragic. The pummelled feeling it leaves you with at the end is how I hope The Limit affects people. But …

Despite an amazing first act (*****), my reaction has ebbed over the last 24 hours. There are a couple of reasons for that.

Here's some light spoiler analysis ...

The protagonist is not the protagonist. It took Ed telling me that he saw Oldboy as a dark version of Amelie before I realised this. Oh Dae-su is definitely the main character. I always wanted to know why this had happened to him, why he’d been abducted for 15 years – and I was fully behind him getting revenge. At least until I found out what was going on.

Then it become clear that this is a revenge story – just not Oh Dae-su's. The villain is the protagonist. The one who causes everything to happen, who has a good reason for doing what he’s doing.

Now, I say ‘a good reason’, but actually I’m not so sure. People have told me that Oldboy has twists in it but technically it actually has two massive backstory revelations. The problem with the villain’s motivation is that the cause and effect of what happened to his sister seemed unclearly dealt with. I’m sure it’s all consistent, but as a first time viewer it didn’t make sense at a gut level to.

Another problem is that I guessed the absolutely central dark secret very early … but repressed it. That’s my own thing – I like trying to guess the secrets in movies, so that won’t weaken Oldboy for other viewers.

Biggest issue? One simple conversation betweeen Mido and Oh Dae-su could have cleared things up. Obviously that’s why they never had that conversation – but given both their histories, it’s a pretty massive issue. At least on a first viewing. I’m sure the writers and film-maker (Chan-wook Park) have addressed that somewhere. The degree of control the villain has had over Mido’s life suggests a possible answer.

Whether you laugh at Oh Dae-su’s final abasement at the foot of the man who’s destroyed his life depends on whether you see this as an exploitative gross-out flick or an intense Greek (by way of Korean) tragedy.

It worked for me. Just didn't fully grip me.

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