Vengeance is a dish best served cold. That should be revenge,actually,but in the context of Park Chan-wooks Oldboy,its the first,more classical term thats more appropriate. What would you do if you were imprisoned in a cell for 15 years with no idea of what or who brought you there,with no human interaction,only a television set for company,and a food tray pushed in through a hole in the door? All that the protagonist (you cannot call him hero by any stretch) of the South Korean chiller which won big at all the global film festivals post its year of release (2003) knows for certain is that some nights he is gassed enough so that he passes out,and he wakes up to find his bedclothes changed,and his hair cut.
The director has been at the forefront of the flowering of Korean cinema,and among the major Asian filmmakers whose work is looked forward to with excitement. This week,Chan-wook has been in the news for having done for Steve Jobs what the man couldnt have done for himself shoot a full movie on an iPhone. Okay,so the film is only 30 minutes long,but it is a full-fledged piece of fiction,with a beginning,middle,and the kind of end only Chan-wook,presumably,can dream up.
Oldboy has the kind of nightmarish intensity that a truly shocking story generates. Oh Dae Su is just your average businessman,busy having himself a night on the tiles,pushing back his family commitments (his daughters birthday appears to have been spent,with him getting hopelessly sloshed). He,and we,the viewers,cannot anticipate what will happen next. He is whisked away from a phone booth,and he wakes up in this room where he will spend the next several years of his life,banging away at the walls. And his memory: who could be behind the act?
What unspools is a psychedelic pop puree which speaks to the power of the heart,and what love,especially if it is twisted love,can force humans to do. When Oh Dae Su is released,he stumbles into a sushi bar,and says give me something alive (to eat),you know that hes ready to begin living again,and willing to pay the price for it.
Bollywood ripped off Oldboy,and made it into Zinda,with Sanjay Dutt playing the prisoners part. You cant help comparing the two,and remembering which the real film was,and which the sad copy.