Oldboy (Hangul: 올드보이; RR: Oldeuboi; MR: Oldŭboi) is a 2003 South Korean mystery thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook. It is based loosely on the Japanese manga of the same name written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya. Oldboy is the second installment of The Vengeance Trilogy, preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and followed by Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
The film follows the story of one Oh Dae-su, who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without knowing his captor's motives. When he is finally released, Dae-su finds himself still trapped in a web of conspiracy and violence. His own quest for vengeance becomes tied in with romance when he falls for an attractive sushi chef.
The film won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and high praise from the President of the Jury, director Quentin Tarantino. Critically, the film has been well received in the United States, with an 80% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Roger Ebert claimed that Oldboy is a "powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare". In 2008, voters on CNN named it one of the ten best Asian films ever made. A remake with the same title was released in 2013 in the United States.
In 1988, businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is walking drunk through the streets of Seoul, missing his daughter's 4-th birthday. While walking through the streets, he is kidnapped. He wakes up in a solitary confinement in a hotel-like prison. Confined with no human contact or explanation for his kidnapping, Dae-su soon learns through news reports his wife has been murdered, and he is the prime suspect. Dae-su passes the time shadowboxing, planning revenge, and secretly attempting to tunnel out of his cell.
In 2003, exactly 15 years after he was imprisoned, he is released without reason on a rooftop. Dae-su receives a taunting phone call from his captor who refuses to explain why he was imprisoned. Later he collapses at a sushi restaurant and is taken in by Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), the restaurant's young chef. After Dae-su, in a fit of insanity and the loss of the human touch, tries to sexually assault her, she confides that she reciprocates his attraction, and states she will have sex with him when she is ready.
Meanwhile, Dae-su also tries to find his daughter and discovers that she was adopted by a Swedish couple after his wife's death. Recalling the dumplings he ate while in prison, Dae-su locates the restaurant that made them and tracks a delivery man to the place where he was held: a private prison where people can pay to have others incarcerated for a amount of time by paying a counted amount of money it would take for the person to be kept alive and also extra. He tortures the warden for information, learning only that he was held captive for "talking too much". Afterwards he fights his way out of the building past numerous henchmen.
Dae-su is finally approached by his captor, a wealthy man named Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae). Woo-jin gives Dae-su an ultimatum: discover the motive for his imprisonment in five days and Woo-jin will kill himself. If not, Mi-do will die. As Dae-su and Mi-do grow emotionally intimate, the two have sex. Dae-su discovers he and Woo-jin attended the same high school, and remembers spying on Woo-jin's incestuous relationship with his sister, Soo-ah. Unaware of the familial ties, Dae-su inadvertently spread a rumor before moving to Seoul. As a result of the rumor, Soo-ah suffered from false signs of pregnancy and committed suicide. Joining Dae-su's side after having his hand amputated by Woo-jin, Mr. Park, the warden of the private prison, agrees to incarcerate and protect Mi-do while Dae-su confronts his nemesis.
Arriving at Woo-jin's penthouse, Dae-su admits he accidentally drove Soo-ah to suicide. Woo-jin then reveals that Dae-su's actual daughter is Mi-do. The daughter he'd seen in footage provided by Woo-jin had merely been a forgery. Woo-jin had imprisoned Dae-su for 15 years so that Mi-do would be old enough to fall in love with Dae-su, and then used hypnosis to ensure that the two fell in love, with the intent on making Dae-su feel the same pain he previously felt. Woo-jin gives him a photo album to confirm this. He also reveals that Mr. Park is still working for him and will give a similar album to Mi-do. Dae-su begs Woo-jin to spare Mi-do the truth and cuts out his own tongue in a gesture of atonement. Woo-jin tells Mr. Park to spare Mi-do the truth and then, reliving his sister's death, commits suicide.
Some time later, Dae-su sits in a winter landscape with the hypnotist whom Woo-jin used; touched by Dae-su's handwritten story and pleas, she hypnotizes him and alters his memories so that he forgets the terrible secret. Mi-do then finds Dae-su alone in the snow, and tells him she loves him before embracing him. Dae-su breaks into a wide smile, but it is quickly replaced by a look of pain, bringing into question whether the hypnosis worked.
Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su; he has been imprisoned for about 15 years. Choi Min-sik lost and gained weight for his role depending on the filming schedule, trained for six weeks and did most of his stunt work.,
Yoo Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin: The man behind Oh Dae-su's imprisonment. Park Chan-wook's ideal choice for Woo-jin had been actor Han Suk-kyu, who previously played a rival to Choi Min-sik in Shiri and No. 3. Choi then suggested Yoo Ji-tae for the role, despite Park's reservation about his youthful age.,
Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do: Dae-su's love interest.,
Ji Dae-han as No Joo-hwan: Dae-su's friend and the owner of an internet café.,
Kim Byeong-ok as Mr. Han: Bodyguard of Woo-jin.,
Oh Tae-kyung as young Dae-su,
Ahn Yeon-seok as young Woo-jin,
Woo Il-han as young Joo-hwan,
Yoon Jin-seo as Lee Soo-ah, Woo-jin's sister.,
Oh Dal-su as Park Cheol-woong, the private prison's manager.,
The corridor fight scene took seventeen takes in three days to perfect and was one continuous take; there was no editing of any sort except for the knife that was stabbed in Oh Dae-su's back, which was computer-generated imagery.
Other computer-generated imagery in the film includes the ant coming out of Oh Dae-su's arm (according to the making-of on the DVD the whole arm was CGI) and the ants crawling over Oh Dae-su afterwards. The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. The eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.
The final scene's snowy landscape was filmed in New Zealand. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, and the audience is left with several questions: specifically, how much time has passed, if Dae-Su's meeting with the hypnotist really took place, whether he successfully lost the knowledge of Mi-do's identity, and whether he will continue his relationship with Mi-do. In an interview (included with the European release of the film) director Park Chan-Wook says that the ambiguous ending was deliberate and intended to generate discussion; it is completely up to each individual viewer to interpret what isn't shown.
Oldboy received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 80% based on 133 reviews. The site's consensus is "Violent and definitely not for the squeamish, Park Chan-Wook's visceral Oldboy is a strange, powerful tale of revenge."Metacritic gives the film an average score of 74 out of 100, based on 31 reviews. In 2008, it was placed 64th on the top 500 Empire movies of all time.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars. Ebert remarked: "We are so accustomed to 'thrillers' that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it's a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose."James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three out of four stars, saying that it "isn't for everyone, but it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers."
Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com praised the film, calling it "anguished, beautiful, and desperately alive" and "a dazzling work of pop-culture artistry." Peter Bradshaw gave it 5/5 stars, commenting that this is the first time in which he could actually identify with a small live octopus. Bradshaw summarizes his review by referring to Oldboy as "cinema that holds an edge of cold steel to your throat." David Dylan Thomas points out that rather than simply trying to "gross us out", Oldboy is "much more interested in playing with the conventions of the revenge fantasy and taking us on a very entertaining ride to places that, conceptually, we might not want to go." Sean Axmaker of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave Oldboy a score of "B-", calling it "a bloody and brutal revenge film immersed in madness and directed with operatic intensity," but felt that the questions raised by the film are "lost in the battering assault of lovingly crafted brutality."
PopMatters and WorldsGreatestCritic.com journalist J.C. Maçek III called Oldboy "extremely well-written and keeps all its cards hidden until just the right point to play each one. Oh, you might not like where it goes (this one makes Kill Bill look like Rent), but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into Oldboy."
MovieGazette lists 10 features on its "It's Got" list for Oldboy and summarizes its review of Oldboy by saying, "Forget 'The Punisher' and 'Man on Fire' - this mesmerising revenger's tragicomedy shows just how far-reaching the tentacles of mad vengeance can be." MovieGazette also comments that it "needs to be seen to be believed." Jamie Russell of the BBC movie review calls it a "sadistic masterpiece that confirms Korea's current status as producer of some of the world's most exciting cinema." Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gave a lukewarm review, saying that "there is not much to think about here, outside of the choreographed mayhem." J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader was also not impressed, saying that "there's a lot less here than meets the eye." This film is ranked #18 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.
Oedipus The King Inspiration:
Oldboy's director Park Chan-wook stated that he named the main character Oh Daesu "to remind the viewer of Oedipus." In one of Oldboy's iconic shots, Yoo Ji-tae, who played Woo-jin, struck an extraordinary yoga pose. Park Chan-wook said he designed this to convey "the image of Apollo." It was Apollo's prophecy that revealed Oedipus' fate, in Sophocles Oedipus. The link to Oedipus Rex is only a minor element in most English-language criticism of the movie. Koreans have made it a central theme. Sung Hee Kim wrote "Family seen through Greek tragedy and Korean movie -- Oedipus the King and Old Boy." Kim Kyungae offers a different analysis, with Dea-su and Woo-jin both representing Oedipus. Besides the theme of unknown incest revealed, Oedipus gouges his eyes out to avoid seeing a world that despises his truth, while Oh Daesu cuts out his tongue to avoid revealing the truth to his world.
Box office performance:
In South Korea, the film was seen by 3,260,000 filmgoers and it ranks fifth place for the highest grossing film of 2003.
It grossed a total of US$14,980,005 worldwide.
Awards and nominations:
Asia Pacific Film Festival
Austin Film Critics Association
Best Foreign Film
Bangkok International Film Festival
Best Director (tied with Christophe Barratier for Les Choristes)
Belgian Film Critics Association
Bergen International Film Festival
Blue Dragon Film Awards
Best Supporting Actress
British Independent Film Awards
Best Foreign Independent Film
Cannes Film Festival
Chicago Film Critics Association
Best Foreign Language Film
Critics' Choice Movie Award
Best Foreign Language Film
Director's Cut Awards
European Film Awards
Best Non-European Film
Golden Trailer Awards
Best Foreign Action Trailer (tied with District 13)
Grand Bell Awards
Best Film Editing
Hong Kong Film Award
Best Asian Film
Korean Film Awards
Best Supporting Actress
Best Art Direction
Online Film Critics Society
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Action or Adventure Film
Best DVD or Blu-ray Special Edition Release
Ultimate Collector's Edition
Sitges Film Festival
José Luis Guarner Critic's Award
Stockholm International Film Festival
Differences from the manga:
The manga, which precedes the film, is considerably tamer and less violent. No one dies in the manga except Lee Woo-jin's counterpart, Takaaki Kakinuma, also by a self-inflicted gunshot on the temple.,
Oh Dae-su is significantly different from Shinichi Goto, his manga counterpart. Goto is considerably less tormented than Oh Dae-su; Goto is remarkably calm and stoic, even during his captivity, unlike Oh Dae-su. Also, Goto is a towering man in peak physique at the time of his release in his 30s; Oh Dae-su is also on peak physique, though smaller and appearing to be at least in his late forties; Goto was imprisoned for ten years, while Oh Dae-su was imprisoned for fifteen. Goto, unlike Oh Dae-Su, seems rather uninterested in pursuing Kakinuma's ruse through the means of violence, instead initially opting to pursue a peaceful life; his pursuit of his captors is not driven by vengeance, but rather by curiosity, though he is later lured by Kakinuma into their conflict.,
Mi-Do's counterpart Eri is not Shinichi Goto's daughter, as Mi-Do is with Oh Dae-Su. Eri was hypnotically lured to Goto just as a means of surveillance and to burden Goto. As a result, Goto and his allies move her out of Kakinuma's reach so she does not become a target.,
Oh Dae-Su and Lee Woo-jin's former schoolmate No Joo-hwan's counterpart, Tsukamoto, is a professional acquaintance of Shinichi Goto, and is not introduced to Lee Woo-jin's counterpart, Takaaki Kakinuma until later in the story. Tsukamoto, a bartender, unlike No Joo-hwan, who runs an internet cafe, survives the ordeal.,
Kakinuma, unlike Lee Woo-jin in the film, is not successful in his ruse against Goto; in fact, he is unable to break and ruin Goto and his tactics ultimately fail miserably. The reasons for kidnapping and imprisoning Goto and Oh Dae-su respectively are also completely different: Goto unknowingly shattered Kakinuma's self-esteem and left him emotionally scarred for life by feeling pity for him and openly crying in music class when he realized Kakinuma's loneliness in the manga; Oh Dae-su witnessed Lee Woo-jin's incestuous relationship with his own sister and created a rumor that resulted in Lee Woo-jin's sister suicide. Kakinuma, unlike Lee Woo-jin, has no relatives to speak of.,
Albeit victorious against Kakinuma, Goto is left plagued by hypnotic episodes at the end of the manga which worries him about Eri, who was still vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion, as the hypnotist found her to be mentally locked by Kyoko Kataoka, Kakinuma's "assistant"; Goto does not know to what extent they have been hypnotized or whether there might be any repercussions to the manipulation that could cause them self or mutual harm. On the other hand, Oh Dae-Su is left presumably emotionally crippled and mute and his ultimate fate is left unknown.,
Mr. Han's counterpart is an unnamed "Secret Service" agent that reports directly to Kakinuma and directs his surveillance operations targeting Goto. He later turns against Kakinuma as he finds his harassing of Goto rather pointless.,
Many major and minor characters in the manga do not have a counterpart in the film, such as Yayoi Kusama, Goto and Kakinuma's 6th grade teacher turned novelist, to whom Kakinuma entrapped to document the conflict; Kyoko Kataoka, Kakinuma's "assistant" and lastly, Kakinuma's "Referee".,
Nearly all the music cues composed by Shim Hyeon-jeong, Lee Ji-soo and Choi Seung-hyeon are titled after films, many of them film noirs.
"Look Who's Talking" (opening song)
"Somewhere in the Night"
"The Count of Monte Cristo"
"In a Lonely Place" (Oh Dae-su's theme)
"Look Back in Anger"
""Vivaldi" - Four Seasons Concerto Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, "L'inverno" (Winter)"
"Room at the Top"
"Cries and Whispers" (Lee Woo-jin's theme)
"Out of Sight"
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
"Out of the Past"
"Breathless" (Lee Woo-jin's theme reprise)
"The Old Boy" (Oh Dae-su's theme reprise)
"Dressed to Kill"
"Kiss Me Deadly"
"Farewell, My Lovely" (Lee Woo-jin's theme reprise)
"The Big Sleep"
"The Last Waltz" (Mi-do's theme)
Tartan Asia Extreme has released several DVD editions of the film, including a single-disc edition, featuring the film and a small amount of special features.
A three-disc collector's edition has also been released, featuring:
Three audio commentary tracks with the director, cinematographer, and cast,
Five behind-the-scenes documentaries,
The first issue of the manga that the film is based upon.,
Interviews with the cast and crew,
A featurette titled: "Le Grand Prix at Cannes",
A three-and-a-half hour making-of documentary entitled The Autobiography of Oldboy,
Oldboy has also been released on Blu-ray.
Controversy over Zinda:
Zinda, the Bollywood film directed by writer-director Sanjay Gupta, also bears a striking resemblance to Oldboy but is not an officially sanctioned remake. It was reported in 2005 that Zinda was under investigation for violation of copyright. A spokesman for Show East, the distributor of Oldboy, said, "If we find out there's indeed a strong similarity between the two, it looks like we'll have to talk with our lawyers."
American film remake:
An American remake directed by Spike Lee was released on November 27, 2013.