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You just know it can't be good when
a perforated line goes from the sharp
end of a hammer to the soft spot on
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Hollywood really needs to import cinematic triumphs from overseas before Nicolas Cage decides to remake them. I've owned Oldboy on DVD for nearly six months and today I see that it's opening in American theaters (a whopping 4, if I remember correctly. At the same time Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous plays in over 3,000.). I've watched this movie so many times; it feels like Oldnews (okay, no more "Oldjokes"). Does the fact that cinefanatics such as myself, Quentin Tarantino and the girl I'm destined to marry -- once she finds me and proposes -- have already watched this movie half a dozen times mean that you shouldn't go see it once? Of course not. The reason I've (along with Quentin and my imaginary future wife) watched this movie every couple of weeks since buying it is because it rocks, it rolls, it kicks, it bites, it punches and it eventually blows your fucking mind. Oldboy is like nothing you've ever seen before. It's a film that would never have a "Made in America" stamp on it, because Americans wouldn't dare make a film of this sort (unless they're Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez and they're making Sin City, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite movies of all time). But Nic Cage wants to star in a remake, so at least we can stamp another "Remade in America" sticker on one of our future films. Hopefully someone remembers to dunk said sticker in water before applying; because it will only appeal to the flyover states when watered down.
In jail for a crime he didn't know he commited ...
Toward the beginning of the
movie, our anti-hero, Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) finds himself in jail. He doesn't
know why he's there and there's nothing around him to provide any clues.
He can look into the hallway outside of his cell if he manages to stick his head
out of the food door when it's opened to give him his daily dose of fried
dumplings. Over the fifteen years he's held captive Dae-su comes to terms
with the fact that he's wronged a lot of people and could be locked up for any
number of reasons. The room he's in isn't your typical prison cell.
It looks similar to a hotel room. There's a cozy single bed, a TV, a desk
to write on -- everything but the mint on the pillow. But this isn't a
hotel room and there is seemingly no escape. Every night valium gas is
shot in, putting Dae-su into a deep sleep. Every meal he's served consists
of fried dumplings. The only thing that changes in his life is the events
that he sees on television. The TV is his constant companion. It's
his teacher, his friend and his lover.
Essentially, he has the
same relationship with his television set as I do with mine. Er
-- did I say too much? Let me cross that line about my TV out.
Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled programming ... um ... critiquing.
The television lets him know that his wife has been murdered and his daughter is
missing and presumed dead. It also fills him in on the fact that he's the
prime suspect in the killings. Dae-su has been set up and when he gets out
of this place, he's not going to stop until he finds the man behind the death of
everything he held dear. Even if he has to eat every fried dumpling in
Korea to catch the guy's scent and hunt him down. I'll be right back after
these words from my sponsor.
It's a damn strange little film. The story keeps getting crazier, right up to the point when the reason for Dae-su's imprisonment is revealed. At that point, it goes totally over the edge. With some fairly harsh scenes of dental torture, this film isn't for everyone. As a dentist-phobe (20 wifely candidates just thought twice about writing me), I had trouble with a couple of the scenes. But if you can get past the violence -- or embrace it -- you'll be rewarded with one of the most unique film going experiences of your life. The movie is like a pulp novel written by Truman Capote on laughing gas. It's compelling, intense and, at times, a big fun roller-coaster ride of videogame violence and softcore sex. You can't help but relish the scene in the hallway where Dae-su takes out an entire army of thugs -- the whole time with a knife in his back. And then, just when you think it can't get any wilder, an elevator door opens up revealing 15 or 20 more baddies. Elevator door closes, reopens and you see Dae-su walking away from a pile of 15 or 20 badly beaten bruisers. It's director Chan-wook Park's willingness to find humor in the most absurd (and oftentimes taboo) of places that makes it nearly impossible to take your eyes off of the screen.
It's all fun and games until somebody loses a tongue ...
Despite its dizzy humor, Oldboy is far from a comedy. Dae-su finds that, even though he's escaped prison, he's still in a cage. There's someone pulling his strings and when the audience finds out whom and why it's being done, the film takes a turn that will inevitably turn a few of the more conventional movie goers off (and for them, there's Miss Congeniality 2). If any movie deserves to be rated R for "thematic elements," it's this one. By the end of the film, you're embarrassed about dirty thoughts you were having earlier on. Chan-wook Park takes his movie to the dark corners of humanity. He opens the closets containing our skeletons. Park isn't scared to shine a light on the shadows and see what's lurking there. I found the fearlessness of the movie invigorating. Some will find it perverse. Dumb people won't understand it, so instead of asking what was going on, they'll get all belligerent and say it sucked. Christians will grow increasingly guilty over watching it, leading to their eventual suicide. Alcoholics will get really drunk, forget that they watched it, and say, "I'm not an alcoholic -- I jisht drink cuzsh it feelsh good." Film critics will pad their reviews of the movie, for no apparent reason. No one will walk away saying, "it's been done to death." And for that, everyone in love with the art of cinema should be grateful for this carnal ballet of love, loss and revenge.
Now, who out there is looking for a husband?
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Wanna get married? Email this critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
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COMING SOON - Reviews of Revenge of the Sith, House of Wax, Madagascar and, just because it's been requested more than ANY other movie yet to be reviewed on this site, Hellboy (so who says I don't listen to my readers?)!
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