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Dramatic impact of 'Old Boy'

2004/07/01 | Permalink | Source

With the media frenzy over "Old Boy"'s Grand Prize of the Jury triumph at the Cannes Film Festival finally beginning to die down, it should come as no surprise that this week's DVD review features - yes, you guessed it - "Old Boy" (2003). After all, how often does a psychological drama as good as Park Chan-wook's tale of revenge and wanton bloodlust come along?

Starring the immensely talented Choi Min-sik ("Happy End" and "Failan") as Oh Dae-su - a troublemaking boozehound who finds himself imprisoned for 15 years in a room that makes a 15,000-won-per-night motel look luxurious - the film follows Oh's relentless search to discover his abductor's identity and reason for locking him away.

Based on a Japanese comic book of the same title, this tortured tale is more intricate than even the most challenging of Chinese puzzles. Director Park ("JSA" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance") does a masterful job, giving absolutely nothing away en route to the film's violent climax, even adding a generous serving of steaming taboo for good measure.

Watching Choi's haggard face as he conveys the physical suffering and mental anguish of Oh, it's difficult to imagine any other actor turning in a performance that could possibly come close to this stellar effort. Admirably supported by Yoo Ji-tae ("Attack the Gas Station!") as Lee Woo-jin and Kang Hye-jung ("Nabi") as Mi-do, this film is an emotional and moral Sargasso Sea that puts narcoleptic offerings such as "it girl" Jun Ji-hyun's "Windstruck" to shame.

Employing a variety of camera angles and hip editing techniques reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's sharpest efforts, "Old Boy" is an enthralling viewing experience that somehow desensitizes us to its frequently occurring scenes of brutal violence and torture.

The dramatic impact of these images is further enhanced by the use of the color violet and patterned wallpaper to convey a character's state of mind. Yet the undisputed visual highlight of the film is the scene in which Oh orders a dish of live octopus to celebrate his first night of freedom. Stuffing the entire cephalopod into his mouth, he chews away until passing out face down on the sushi bar, a tentacle still wriggling from the corner of his mouth.

Hailed by critics as the "greatest Korean film of all time", "Old Boy" is a must see for fans of quality cinema and a sign of even better things to come with Park preparing for his latest project, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance".

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