In director Park Chan-wook
's latest brooding opus, the theme of vengeance is back with ... well, a vengeance. In a departure from his hauntingly restrained "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
", his new film "Old Boy"
opening this Friday thrashes wildly in visual and emotional excesses like the god of vengeance gone mad.
The result is an eye-popping, blood-soaked and wickedly inventive mystery thriller that revels in the sheer sport of filmmaking. What it ultimately adds up to, of course, is another question.
In the film, Choi Min-sik
plays loudmouthed drunk Oh Dae-su, who is kidnapped and confined in a run-down motel room. For the next 15 years, he seethes in his cell, watching television during the day and dreaming of revenge at night, all while not knowing who took him prisoner or why.
When he is released, he chances on a young woman (Kang Hye-jung
) in a Japanese restaurant. The pair follows the clues of the crime, eventually leading to a suave entrepreneur (Yoo Ji-tae
), who proposes to kill himself if Oh Dae-su can figure out why he was locked up.
Based on a Japanese comic book, the film refashions the details and rewrites the ending to pack a shocking punch, constructing a completely different tale more in line with the director's penchant for inexorable tragedy.
If "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
" forced the viewers to squirm quietly in their seats, "Old Boy"
mounts a frontal assault, giving them no time to breathe. Style bursts like green and scarlet lava to color the screen with a mood of modern noir. Music thumps constantly while box office-conscious humor keeps the narrative flowing. Even Choi looks groovy with a Jun In-kwon hairdo.
Of course, it all leads to the big secret of why Oh Dae-su was taken prisoner that had the film's publicity staff calling reporters after the screening to ask them to not reveal the ending. It may be confirmed, at least, that the path of revenge spirals toward inevitable tragedy on a massive, Greek scale.
Toward its finale, the film is like Hercules gone mad, wildly swinging an axe in all directions to carve up allusions to Greek mythology. The big secret is contained in a little box like Pandora's, and in a cute Oedipal moment, Oh Dae-su cuts off his tongue that was the source of his troubles instead of gouging out his eyes.
However, one must hesitate to call "Old Boy"
a great work as some critics have done. For all its power to captivate the viewers, something about the film is a bit too comic book-like on second thought to offer any serious insights about human nature.
It is also impossible to avoid the feeling that the big secret is a rather sensitive matter that was used simply for shock value.
is a mesmerizing experience but not quite the moving one that it wants to be. With an ounce of restraint, perhaps that fact would have been less obvious.
Nevertheless, the film is a virtuoso exercise of style from an increasingly confident director. It doesn't quite have the depth it pretends, but it doesn't need depth to be a terrific mystery thriller.
By Kim Jin