Saturday, 20 June 2015
Oldboy (4 Stars)
In 1988 the Korean businessman Oh Dae-su gets drunk and is picked up by the police. After being detained for a few hours he's released with a caution. His best friend Joo-hwan picks him up from the police station. On the way home they stop at a phone booth to ring his wife to let her know where he is. Before he can get back in the car he's knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up in something that looks like a hotel room, but the door is locked and he's not allowed to leave. Over the following days he is given food on a plate through a slit in the door. On television he sees a news report that his wife has been murdered, and because of his suspicious disappearance he is the prime suspect. The days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, the months turn into years. He's taken care of. His room is cleaned while he sleeps, and occasionally new clothes are laid out for him, but he never sees or speaks to anyone.
After 15 years of solitary confinement he's suddenly released. He wakes up on a rooftop. With him is a young man who intends to commit suicide. Oh Dae-su doesn't attempt to talk him out of it, he just tells him about his imprisonment. It's the first person he's been able to talk to for 15 years. In the street a stranger hands him an envelope with a large amount of money and a mobile phone. A caller tells him that he has five days to find out why he was imprisoned. If he doesn't succeed he will be killed.
I'm not a fan of Korean movies, but of all the Korean films I've seen this is the best. It's a twisted mystery thriller which becomes even more twisted as Oh Dae-su begins to discover the truth. We also see a man struggling to survive in a new world. The period from 1988 to 2003 was a time of big changes. There are new inventions, such as mobile phones and the Internet. (Mobile phones were actually invented in 1949, but due to the high cost and poor service hardly anyone owned one until the 1990's).
The large popularity of this film sparked an American remake in 2013. Purists criticised the remake for the simple reason that they always hate remakes, but I'll keep an open mind until I've seen it.