Directed By: Park Chan-wook

Starring: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, and Kang Hye-jung

"Laugh and the world laughs with you.  Weep and you weep alone."
-Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik)

I've seen some sick movies in my time, but none may be sicker than Park Chan-wook's Oldboy.  It's one bloody, disgusting movie.  Despite this, the 2003 South Korean thriller is a rare testament to the fact that filmmakers can generate shock and awe with class and style.  In a very surreal scene during which our star pulls out the teeth of a foe, we hear screams of pain accompanied by Vivaldi's "Winter".  That's style right there.  Using the renowned violin concerto to set the mood in the midst of cruel torture is definitely classy.  Adding this icy song to a moment of sweet revenge is just so fitting.  Creative choices like this are the reason why I love Oldboy.

In 1988, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel-like complex.  Unsure of why this has come to pass, Dae-su is confined to this hell with no human contact for 15 years.  While in captivity, the only way he stays abreast of events is through television — his clock, calendar, friend, and lover.  Unfortunately, TV is the means by which Dae-su learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is suspected of having committed the crime.  Over the course of this fateful decade and a half, Dae-su begins digging a tunnel to escape, shadow-boxing to build himself up, and plotting his revenge against whomever has committed this unforgivable sin against him.  He builds a hatred for dumplings during this time as well.  Then, after exactly 15 years of confinement, Dae-su is released back into the world.

Upon his release, Oh Dae-su receives a call from his mysterious captor (Yoo Ji-tae) who does nothing to explain why he imprisoned Dae-su for so long.  However, the larger question looms of why he released him.  Regardless, Dae-su goes on a personal mission to find his captor and avenge the wrong done to him.  He also intends to reunite with his daughter who was adopted by a Swedish couple after her mother's killing.  Before he begins his journey of revenge, Dae-su decides to go have some sushi at a nearby restaurant.  After vigorously dining on some live squid, he collapses.  Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), the chef at the restaurant takes the collapsed Dae-su back to her apartment.  After he awakens and makes some unsuccessful sexual advances toward her, Dae-su tells Mi-do the horrific story of his life.  Because of this, she commits herself to helping him find his daughter and realize his revenge.

I have to give Park Chan-wook credit where credit is due.  Anyone who can bring a sadistic story like Oldboy to the big screen is one sick puppy.  There are so many layers of terror in this film that range from the physical to the psychological.  Chan-wook meticulously develops each slice of fear and offers up one truly nightmarish thriller.  With all that Chan-wook cooks up, you'll be thinking about why he's made certain creative decisions rather than where is it leading.  As the film's major twists and turns ensue, they'll be that much more surprising because Chan-wook will have kept us from asking the right questions.  That's some truly brilliant filmmaking.

On its exterior, Oldboy offers some unusual thrills. Sure, you have your basic cruel and unusual punishment with things like pulling teeth out, but there's some much sicker stuff in this film.  Whether it be Russian gas or eating live squid, Chan-wook consistently ratchets up the shock factor.  On the psychological side of things, Chan-wook does far more damage.  First, he deftly creates this tortuous imprisonment that leads to hallucinations and extreme mental anguish.  With some great set design and the constant sound of time ticking away, Chan-wook turns Oh Dae-su's room into hell on earth.  Then, he gives us a thrilling series of mind games between Oh Dae-su and his captor.  Because we're not asking the right questions, he hits us hard with some huge, jaw-dropping thrills here that will certainly disgust many.

The cast delivers some truly noteworthy performances.  As our main character Oh Dae-su, Choi Min-sik gives us one furious victim.  Fueled by endless rage and an insatiable appetite for revenge, Min-sik captures a wide range of emotions with some powerhouse acting.  Despite his unabated intensity on screen, Min-sik's role can best be described as tragic, and he does manage to subtly capture this in his performance.  As Dae-su's nemesis Lee Woo-jin, Yoo Ji-tae gives us one sick bastard.  I can say that he does his job quite well because I don't like his character one bit throughout the film.  To be able to sit in amusement as his character's dastardly plan unfolds and untold horrors are revealed takes true skill and the utmost professionalism.  Finally, we have Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do.  While Hye-jung does give a rather sensual performance, she also has a mysterious vibe as if there's something more to her character.

Oldboy is one unforgettable thriller.  It's an outstanding piece of cinema that challenges us to watch it.  You don't need a drink for it, but you may need one afterward.  This South Korean thriller gets a sober rating.