Combustible Celluloid
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With: Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-ieong, Ji Dae-han, Oh Dal-su, Kim Byeong-ok, Kim Su-hyeon, Lee Seung-jin, Yun Su-kyeong
Written by: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Jun-hyeong, Park Chan-wook, from a story by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Korean with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 04/15/2005

Oldboy (2003)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Squid Vicious

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

According to some insiders, Park Chan-wook's Oldboy was just a hair away from winning the 2004 Palm D'Or that eventually went to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which is just as well. Now instead of being an international award winner, it's an extremely cool little gem that can be truly discovered by appreciative fans. (Note: it's actually the middle part of a trilogy, beginning with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and ending with Lady Vengeance, but it stands on its own.)

Bringing Asian cult films to a new level, the Korean import Oldboy tells the hairy, gripping story of an ordinary businessman, Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) who suddenly disappears, having been kidnapped and kept in a single locked room for fifteen years without explanation.

When he is finally released, he is given a single challenge: to find out why. His entire appearance has now changed, which is just one small accomplishment in a great performance by Choi. No longer a tubby drunk in a cheap suit, he's now a lean, haunted, animal-like stoic capable of battling a platoon of bad guys in a long narrow hallway. In one of the film's most astonishing scenes, he does just that, with the camera tracking slowly to the right for the entire duration of this several minute-long fight, as the hero pummels his way through his attackers to the elusive exit.

Of course, he meets a girl, a sushi chef, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), and at his peculiar request, she serves him a live squid (which the actor actually eats). She takes to him immediately and helps him on his quest.

I must admit that when Oldboy's carefully prepared revenge plot finally reveals itself in the end, I did not see it coming. Even if, for some reason, astute viewers do predict the ending, Oldboy still fills the screen with enough show-stopping images to put an entire circus out of work.

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