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Not Great But Still Good `Oldboy'

2003/11/20 Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter
There's almost no doubt that Park Chan-wook's new film "Old Boy" will be a commercial success. With the popularity of the two main actors and with many local critics already deeming it a classic, the film has become a hot commodity on Internet ticket reservation sites.

The film finds the director, who is most known for the DMZ drama "JSA - Joint Security Area", returning to the theme of revenge and retribution he explored in last year's "Poksunun Na-ui Kot" (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). Contrasting the stark, almost barren quality of that film, Park pulls out all technical stops for "Old Boy", using scores of computer graphics and fight scenes to tell his tale.

The story comes from a Japanese comic book of the same name, in which an ordinary family man is suddenly kidnapped and placed in a cell dressed up as a hotel room. Given no explanation for his confinement or the murder of his wife, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) spends the next 15 years alone, weaving in and out of hallucinatory states with only a television to keep him company.

Dark and moody like a nightmare waiting to occur, these moments in the hotel room are some of the best in the film. The scenes, in which Park uses a collage of images to set the mood, play out like a Kafka story, with Oh unsuccessfully trying to come up with a rational reason for his plight. An expert on personifying tragedy, Choi is at his angst-filled best portraying a man on the edge of madness.

Oh is determined to one day find a way out of his cell and exact revenge on those responsible. Between bouts of madness, he trains himself in the art of fighting, punching the walls until thick calluses envelop his knuckles.

Unfortunately, when Oh finally escapes and begins tracking down his enemy (Yoo Ji-tae), the film gets to feel a bit muddled. Perhaps it's a matter of having too much of a good thing, because the combination of the various elements doesn't completely add up. Like different volumes in a comic book, there's something a bit stilted about the transitions and the resulting finale.

Still there are many things about the movie that do work. On their own, the scenes are visually strong, though some of the more repulsive moments do feel gratuitous. (Animal rights activists beware!) And the pathetic yet comical quality of having a half-insane man attempting to seek justice, as well as the overall elusiveness of Oh's quest, will keep audiences glued to the screen.

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