Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Joon-hyung, Lim Chun-hyung, Park Chan-wook (created by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi)
Distributed By: Show East
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, and Kang Hye-jeong
Release Date: November 21st, 2003
Without any prior reason, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is imprisoned inside an apartment with no contact to the outside world. Now, after a long fifteen years, Dae-su is released into the outside world. Aided by the beautiful and young sushi chef Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong), Dae-su has five days to figure out who did this, and why.
With the recent Manga Moveable Feast and Kristin Bomba‘s upcoming coverage of Anime Fest, I thought it might be fun to do a live-action manga adaptation for Movie Mondays. And what better adaptation is there to cover than Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy?
Now, I know the words “live-action manga adaptation” might turn off some western comic book fans. Images of over-animated expressions, lustful lolicons, quirky comedic elements, and OVER 9000!!! ultimate destruction attacks may be conjured in one’s head. But is Oldboy like that?
Oldboy is anything but that. It’s a dark and gritty tale of revenge. Much like Road to Perdition, it will fool even the toughest critic into not thinking that it’s a “comic book movie.”
Level 04: Escape
Much of Oldboy‘s success is its ability to be taken seriously without coming off as pretentious. And that ability comes from Park Chan-wook’s masterful directing with a realistic vibe to what could be a very off-the-wall film. Most modern “realistic” films are simply applying earth tone colors, having a camera man who drank twenty red bulls before shooting, and an editor with ADHD. But here, the grounded feel is due to a steady camera and editing, natural but well set colors, and great cinematography.
Now, is it a could-be-possible film? Absolutely not. Again, the circumstances are beyond extraordinary. But rather than the grounded feel and story line clashing, they complement each other. The plot gives more energy and adds some (well put) humor, while the directing helps keep it from going too crazy.
This down-to-earth approach is also due to the acting. As stated before, it isn’t over the top with hyper energetic acting. Rather, these are actors taking the roles seriously and giving their best. Choi Min-sik does a great job as Oh Dae-su, a man who’s been in an isolated hell for fifteen years and now is setting out into the world. Min-sik shows the pain and anger that would come from being imprisoned, but doesn’t go over the top or melodramatic with it. I also liked Kang Hye-jeong as Mi-do. It’s a stretch to say that Mi-do would take a quick liking to an eccentric loner who tried to rape her. But it’s played with conviction and their relationship starts to make sense as the film rolls along. Finally, there’s Yu Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin, the film’s antagonist. It’s a villainous role, but it’s also a role that has many different layers underneath it.
However, before everyone rushes out to Netflix it [Editor’s note: It’s currently streaming.], I will say that this isn’t a film for everyone. Mainly because this film is just plain brutal, from teeth pulling to blood bruised fists pounding against the walls. This isn’t cartoon violence where someone gets bopped on the head with a baseball bat and is fine (or conversely, gets a high heel kick to the head and somehow remains unconscious for hours). Nor is this the horror violence where everything is a blood-tastic filled squib. Bones get shattered, flesh gets bruised, and people run out of breath when fighting. Which makes the action suspenseful, such as the “sidescrolling brawler” scene (one of the best fight scenes ever). Still, the violence may be off putting to some, so be warned.
Even novocaine won't help you.
Also, the story itself is pretty messed up. Now, if you have a twisted soul like myself, you may find yourself smiling at some of it. But it can be pretty intense. “How intense?” you say. Well, it’s on the same level as Battle Royale. If you loved Battle Royale, then watch this. If you were disturbed by Battle Royale, don’t watch this. And if you haven’t seen Battle Royale, then shame on you.
The only flaw that really irritated me was the final leg of the film. Not because of the twist, which is bloody brilliant. Rather, it feels like it was preaching about how I should feel about the film and where the shades of gray lie.
Minor flaws aside, though, this is nothing short of a masterpiece. And if you’re up for some gritty, twisted revenge, then this just might be the manga film for you.
[Editor’s note: The manga, under the same name, was published by Dark Horse Comics from 2006-2007; it’s eight volumes long.]