Park’s Oldboy is a brilliant and creative piece of fimmaking. It is visually stunning with its use of color, exposure, and composition that is punctuated by a haunting score and fantastic acting performances. Which brings me to this:
It is important to view Oldboy in the original Korean audio with appropriate subtitles. This goes without saying when discussing other foreign greats like Rififi, La Femme Nikita or Pan’s Labyrinth; however, for some reason, Asian fims seem to get dubbed (We can probably thank matinee kung fu film tradition for that.) and DVD’s may come preset that way as the default version. It comes across as cartoony. The dubbed version of Oldboy is like watching Mann’s brilliant work in Manhunter with voice-over done by the cast of iCarly.
Oldboy’s subject matter and graphic intensity make the film difficult for some. It won the Grande Prix award at Cannes, although it surprisingly didn’t make a recent list of the top 25 most contoversial films. The plot unfolds and refolds like a paper figure; one moment a swan, the next a tiger, with a climax that rivals Seven or Sixth Sense. It has all the kinetic energy of a great martial arts movie and unleashes it with heavily stylized violence like the single shot corridor fight sequence, but just like in physics, it has the ability to contain that potential force with the power of stillness as you hear the sound of the wind or footsteps crunching in the snow. It is that pause that emotes, let’s it sink in.
Lastly, this film reaches for places that American movies hardly do anymore. Forget the test screenings and number crunchers, the ones that are killing John Hillcoat’s iteration of The Road as we speak; no, Park went for it – all in – like a fucking Korean Kowboy, and that’s why the movie resonates so cleanly.
Oldboy, like all true art, must be visited often, and we get a chance to do that with the joy of new discovery and perspective. Oldboy can’t be taken in at one time any more than Blood Meridian or Mozart, and that continuing relationship is the secret the Mona Lisa smiles about. The one you feel when she looks at you.