Welcome to another Guest Review on Hayes Hudson's House of Horror! Today's reviewer is a first time guest reviewer, Camiele White. Article writer by day, renegade poet by night, Camiele loves any and everything film. She chases only the original (or incredibly funny) and has been known to talk for hours about subjects that most people just don’t care about. Right now, she gets her jabberjaw jollies writing about Halloween costumes. If you want to give her a buzz, she can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail.com.
“Be it a grain of sand or rock, in water they sink as the same.”
It‘s a rare moment, indeed, when a writer stumbles across something that completely defies expectation. A film which I’d expected to be something of a Korean gore-fest turned out to be truly one of the most heartbreaking films that I’ve seen in the past five or six years. It’s an honour to have the opportunity to write a review for the film Oldboy, a gem of a film that actually had me grabbing at my eyes, not for the fear of gratuitous gore, but because I was attempting to keep the brimming tears from falling from my eyes.
The film opens with an eye-opening sequence (a man being executed by being leaned ever so slowly over the ledge of a balcony) and then leads into the titles where we meet the compulsively drunken Oh-Daesu. He’s been pulled into a police station, yet again, for being drunken and disorderly in the streets. What the audience sees is an overweight man with a happy disposition, but who’s a crazy, screaming, stripping freak who in the same instance that he swears at the police officers wants to be their friend. All of this on his three year old daughter’s birthday. He’s clutching a package in which he’s protecting his daughter’s birthday gift –a pair of angel wings. His friend, Joo hwan, decides enough is enough and takes him out of the station. They stop at a phone booth in the pouring rain so that Daesu can call his family to let them know that, as usual, there’s nothing to be alarmed about and that he’s on his way home. He assures “his little Sweet Pea” that everything’s alright and that he’s coming home soon with her birthday gift.
He walks away from the phone and that’s the last anyone sees of him for 15 long years.
I won’t go into detail about what our protagonist goes through in those 15 years (from 1989 tot 2004). What matters is what drove him to survive. Through two failed suicide attempts, an unrequited love affair with a television pop star, and ritualistic hypnosis, Oh-Daesu has only one goal in mind: absolute revenge. Counting down the years by etching hash marks into his right hand (using a notebook coil as a makeshift tattoo needle), he’s finally released (new suit, new mobile, new hair cut). This is where the story takes a turn for the unfortunate and relentlessly mindboggling.
I’m not going to divulge the full details of the film. I leave that to a discerning reading audience to figure out for themselves; however, the plot twists are as radical as the forms of torture Daesu employs upon all those involved in his kidnapping, ultimately ripping him away from his family and his “little Sweat Pea”. We are introduced to Mi-do, a young woman who used to work at a sushi restaurant but has fallen in love with Oh-Daesu, despite the jarring difference in age (Daesu has her by at least 25 years).
And that’s what gets the film under your skin. More so than the freakish ways in which people are punished for their wickedness, the story evolves into something that’s so incredibly intense, you can’t help but feel as though you’re involved in each and every scene. The infamous hammer-and-teeth scene lives up to its reputation. The epic battle between Daesu and a mob of gangsters protecting the fortress that once held Daesu captive is both genius and hilarious; however, very few people actually tout the film for its marvelous sense of story. Convoluted, somewhat. Twisted, most definitely. However, it grabs you so much that anyone ready to cast a judging eye in the script’s direction have only scraped at the surface of the film for fear of being sucked completely into a depressing vortex of familial agony.
From the atmospheric cinematography to the ingratiatingly innocent explosiveness of the soundtrack, this film blitzes the audience for about 90 minutes full of the most unrelenting feeling of anxiety. The climax, of course, being the final showdown between Oh-Daesu and his captor, Woo-jin, whose story is just as complex and even more twisted than the life to which he’s subjected Daesu, is probably the most haunting, yet beautiful, scene in the entire film. The darkness of the atmosphere coupled with the splicing of images from past and future makes for a challenging manner of cinematography that audiences will either love or hate. The story also attacks the audience, forcing it to become painfully intimate with the main characters and their stories –which, despite the objections of quite a few viewers, are brilliantly intermingled.
It’s a tricky task for a director and his cast as the story tellers of the people to produce a work that from the moment the camera is turned on repulses the audience. How, essentially, can a film be repulsive and gorgeous, brutal yet brilliant? It’s a conundrum that not only changes the idea of horror cinema, but totally messes with the idea of acceptable drama. Luckily for me, Park Chan-wook and his cast of brilliant actors (Choi Min-sik as Oh-Daesu, Yu Ji-tae as the maniaclly genius Lee Woo-jin, and Kang Hye-jeong as Daesu’s love interest, Mi-do) succeeded in bringing to life a film that, for all intents and purposes, should’ve failed the moment it hit theatres.
Of course, I can’t divulge the details of the last 20 minutes of the film, which are both incredibly scored and visually stunning (in the most brutal sense of the word). However, I can tell you this: you’ll better understand and appreciate the value of silence and keeping to your own affairs.
All in all, Oldboy is one of the most challenging and most engaging films I’ve watched in the last five years, hands down. I’ve never been so moved by a film that I couldn’t help but turn away only to find myself forced back to the screen –again, the push and pull of intrigue and repulsion. Brilliantly directed, acted, and the story is so convoluted that audiences will either applaud its balls are just walk away shaking their heads –this film is so accidentally brilliant that I can’t stand it. You want a rating, 4.5 out of 5 stars. You want a grade, A-. A must see for anyone who has a heart that wants to be broken over and over again.
CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for OLDBOY
Editors note: The reviews and opinions expressed by our guest reviewers are not associated with or necessarily shared with those of Hayes Hudson's House of Horror. If you would like to be a guest reviewer on the 4H blog, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest reviewers are not compensated for their reviews, but will get promotion for their website or business.