Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Chan-wook Park
Stars: Min-sik Choi, Ji-Tae Yoo, Hye-jung Gang
Some of the most exciting cinema is emerging from Asia at the moment. Their stylistic action epics make the majority of big budget Hollywood productions seem tired and lethargic by comparison. A case in point is Korean director Chan-wook Park’s thriller Old Boy, a gritty, disturbing, repellent and ultra-violent revenge drama that makes Death Wish seem like Play School. Some of the more bloody, gut-wrenching moments include dentistry with a hammer and a man cutting out his own tongue. But the most disgusting scene of all is when the hero swallows a live octopus whole. Yuk!
After a drunken night on the town, self-centred businessman Oh Dae-soo (Min-sik Choi) is kidnapped and imprisoned in an enclosed room. His wife is brutally murdered and his baby daughter missing and as far as police are concerned, the missing Dae-soo is the chief suspect. For fifteen years he remains imprisoned, where he is often tortured, drugged and beaten by his guards. To pass the time he begins to write in a journal details of his past and all the people who may want to harm him. Eventually he is set free, and given a wallet and a mobile phone which provide clues to the identity of the mysterious kidnapper.
With the help of beautiful young waitress Mido (Hye-jung Gang), Dae-soo begins to unravel the mystery behind his imprisonment. Finally he confronts his kidnapper (Ji-tae Yoo), a successful and wealthy businessman who issues a challenge. If Dae-soo can learn the reason behind his kidnapping within five days, the villain will kill himself; if not he will kill Mido. The clues lead into his past, and the ultimate revelation will ensure no-one escapes physically or emotionally unscathed.
The frenetic pacing and kinetic editing style drive the narrative forward with unrelenting energy. Despite its gory excesses, Old Boy is a cautionary tale about the destructive effects of obsession and the primal lust for revenge. The appeal of the material to Park is obvious as his previous film Sympathy For Mr Vengeance explored a number of similar themes and ideas.
Old Boy is outrageous, unrelenting, gory and viscerally exciting stuff that pushes the envelope, although many may find its tough and uncompromising nature too strong and unsettling.