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Movie Review: OldBoy

Dae-su has a problem. Today is his precious little baby girl's birthday, but instead of being with her he finds himself in a police station, completely drunk off his ass. After a little while, Dae-su's best friend, Joo-hwan, comes to pick him up, and considering how much of a nuisance Dae-su was, the police are glad to see him go. Well, kinda looks like everything's going to be okay after all, so once outside, Dae-su steps into a public telephone booth and phones his family... but while Joo-hwan takes his turn talking, Dae-su just vanishes without a trace.

He awakes to find himself locked in a room, much like a small apartment. He is given no explanation as to who is responsible. He is not told why he has been incarcerated. He is not even informed as to how long it was going to last. Then he finds out from the television in his room that his wife has been murdered, and that he is the prime suspect. After several years, with nothing else to do, he draws an outline of a man on the wall... and starts punching it, toughening himself up and training himself how to fight. He also starts keeping a journal, listing everyone he has ever wronged in a desperate attempt to figure out who could have done this to him.

Then, one day, comes across a third chopstick accidentally included with one of his meals. Over the next several years, he uses it to loosen the bricks of his cell. Fifteen years have passed, and Dae-su is has breached the outer wall. He is only months away from making his freedom happen... and then he awakes to find himself no longer in the room he had come to call home, but on a rooftop nearby where he was first abducted. He had been freed. Another man is there on the roof, apparently to commit suicide. After so long without human contact, Dae-su begs the man to listen to his story. The guy is amazed, and afterward, wants to tell Dae-su his story... but Dae-su doesn't really give a crap and just walks off. And once he's on the ground floor outside the building, the guy's body lands full force on one of the cars behind him.

OldBoy Shortly afterwards Dae-su encounters a group of street punks, and figures it's the perfect opportunity to find out if his fighting practice works in real life. He makes short work of the low-lifes, and it's here we see that this once ordinary business man is now truly a badass. Then some homeless guy comes up and hands him a wallet with cash and a cell phone. He enters a sushi restaurant where he meets a pretty young woman named Mido who works there. In the middle of eating he receives a call from the man responsible for his incarceration, and it's here where the game begins. Dae-su now has to find out who did this to him and why, and he's on a time constraint.

OldBoy What a great setup for a movie! Of course a setup is just one step, and there have been many movies with great setups that ended up just sucking hard. So I'm happy to report that this film succeeds in it's execution! The story, the acting, the cinematography, they all work. The way Choi Min-sik initially portrays Dae-su as a drunken businessman and then transforms him into the tough-guy monster we seen fifteen years later when he's released is just amazing, like he's a completely different person. Also, the various angles and lighting used in shooting the different scenes is very effective in helping the audience understand and empathize with precisely what the characters are feeling.

OldBoy The story after the setup is also done well. At no time for me did it feel like it was on autopilot or just proceeding according to some standard formula. Usually in films like this that are made in the US, the mysterious bad guy is introduced, very briefly, early on in the movie, long before they are revealed as the evil toward the end, and this doesn't happen here. In fact, we're really not given many clues along Dae-su's journey to help figure out why this is happening to him, but that doesn't even matter in the slightest. While the mystery is there to move the film along, it's really Dae-su's integration back into society that continually keeps the film entertaining to watch between the excellent action sequences.

OldBoy Everything is revealed at the end, and there is no way that the reveal could have been guessed. There is one point toward the end that I did have a problem with, but I can't tell much about it without giving away anything, so I'll just say it's where he drops out of his badass mode. It just didn't seem like something he would do, especially at that point, where I would expect him to go super saiyan or something. But other than that one part, I really enjoyed everything this movie dealt out.

The extra features include deleted scenes, an interview with the director, and a commentary by the writer/director Park Chanwwok and cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong. Also included is a trailer, which usually isn't worth mentioning, except that this one was made by a contest winner, and it's actually really good. The disc includes an English language track, as well as the original Korean language track with optional subtitles.

OldBoy was released theatrically in the US on March 25, 2005. The DVD will be released on August 23, 2005. It was the 2004 Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner. It's directed by Park Chanwook and stars Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, and Gang Hye-jung. Check out the official website for more.

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