Anything but fried dumplings.
Seeing a movie at a poor resolution is almost never a good idea, especially if you’re going to see a movie from someone known for their visual artistry like Park Chan-wook. But since I am likely to see the re-make of his breakout film Oldboy (2003), seeing the original was a priority. Oldboy is a story of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. He is not told why. He simply sits in his comfortable cell, watching television–which informs him that he is the main suspect in the murder of his own wife–and being hypnotized. After 15 years, he is set free. Dae-su, with the help of a new friend named Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), seeks out his captors to find answers and wreak a little mayhem. But sometimes, knowing the truth is worse than not knowing at all.
Oldboy is a lot like the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). Both make great movies for very little that would be–and, in the case of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was–made a great deal better with a larger budget. For Oldboy, that budget only has to be enlarged enough to even out the score (Yeong-wook Jo). Park uses Vivaldi’s Four Seasons a few times which makes me wonder why he did not go for an exclusively classical score. Probably the cost of an orchestra is higher than a composer with a synthesizer, I don’t know, but Jo’s score has the texture of a TV movie and that’s no good. With the low-res version I saw–Netflix with a low-end internet connection–the effect was nearly fatal. The initial scenes did nothing to keep me engaged. The exposition played out everything I’d already seen in the trailer for the re-make. Not Park’s fault, certainly, but the very first image of Dae-su dangling a man over the edge of a high-rise by the poor man’s tie was, if I can use the same analogy twice, right out of a TV movie.
The reputation of the film was what kept me in my seat until one very cool thing happened. Out of nowhere, Dae-su is heading somewhere and the subway train does a 3D screenwipe to transition the scene. It looked, even at that resolution, absolutely amazing. There were probably three more transitions like that. They were worth the price of admission–which, in this case, was time. Then I got more engaged with the story and Dae-su’s weird hair stopped being an issue for me and then I was enthralled. At the end, there didn’t seem too much for me to say about the movie. It had those cool transitions and the penultimate scene was phenomenal, but this is a cult film with a strong reputation that doesn’t need my help to spread the word. Then I remembered that this is one of Quentin Tarantino‘s favorite movies and, for some people, that is a more repulsive quality than an attractive one.
My understanding and expectation of the movie was as follows: A (1) very violent film (2) by a great visual director (3) about revenge. A later addition was knowledge of a (4) “hammer fight”. Not being particularly bloodthirsty, only (2) and (3) were of interest to me with (1) and (4) nearly deal-breakers. Well, I assure you that the violence is not intense. The hammer fight is really a long action scene that wouldn’t make a little girl the least bit squeamish. It’s like a more realistic version of a fight you’d see in The Matrix (1999). That is to say, bloodless until the very end when someone paints a bit on. The penultimate scene aforementioned does have something quite gruesome, but it is done off-screen with only shrieks for clues. And someone gets shot in the head with a pretty nasty side effect. But it isn’t cartoonish, just icky. No, the real hurtful stuff in this film lies in the psychological realm. It sticks to the revenge theme and, while disturbing, is par for a literary or film noir course.
I intend to see this film again on blu-ray–no idea why it’s so expensive–and would recommend it to people who find “psychological thriller” to be of interest. Oh, and it’s in Korean.
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