By Dominic Antill

With the all-too-familiar whiff of a potential Hollywood remake wafting through the air, what better time to revisit this Korean classic?

And, truth is, director Chan-wook Park creates a thriller that is so beautifully twisted here, that by the end, you would never wish to spread a word of gossip such is the fear of retribution exacted on this scale. 

It may be easily tossed aside as a violent film with a sick mind but this does not wallow in the distastefully cool for the sake of it, given its roots, it is an expression of repression which transcends the story sculpted around that principle. 

Dae-su (Choi Min sik) is a man initially of little moral fibre; the opening scene is of him having certainly had a few too many, scrapping with the police at the station. 

He manages to make a cringe worthy phone call to his daughter, the last time he was to hear her, or so he thinks; it is her birthday of course, but then in a moment, he is kidnapped and incarcerated. 

15 years of imprisonment changes Dae-su, he questions who could have done this to him and why, most importantly what he will do to the man that did this to him should he ever escape. 

Having been released he quickly finds himself living with a young female Chef, lonely and drifting, their tale is one of lost souls by chance (or so you are lead to believe) finding each other. Quickly she becomes Old Boy’s assistant in exacting revenge, come lover. 

The violence that ensues may make first time viewer’s recoil, hands firmly over their eyes. But this is the South Korean way, blood and gore is relative to the level of revenge you should wish to exact. 

The long, intentionally protracted corridor fight scene looks fantastic as the camera pans away from the action to take in the scale of Dae-su’s task of even getting to the elevator (past 20+ blokes). 

By the end of scene Dae-su, equipped with a hammer, is exhausted – and so is the viewer. 

The relentless physical assault comes hand in hand with the plot revelations that twist and turn and contort in the mind.  

Which is precisely what is exceptional about this thriller; it gives you the psychological blows to the temple that are as potent as the violence. The narrative of Old Boy’s sardonic humour clarifies the physical infliction and in doing so ensures that the viewer follows the story firmly through his eyes. 

Gradually being guided through the story, the film reaches its crescendo of tragedy that is almost akin to a Shakespearean drama. 

Finally the true nature of this moral revenge plot is laid bare, bitterly dark; it is difficult to measure whether you would prefer the physical or the psychological pain with which the film draws to a climax. 

The ending redirects this thriller from Old Boy’s revenge, to his redemption and enlightenment if you will, but can he live with the answers untold, now revealed. Chan-wook Park leaves that to you.

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.