Old Boy

Director: Park Chan-wook

South Korea| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.

You want high concept? Try this: a businessman, returning home after a night of drinking, is kidnapped by persons unknown. He’s imprisoned in a cell that looks like a cheap hotel room. For 15 years. During this time, between the suicide attempts, the drugging, the periods of psychosis and helpless anguish, he learns from the small television in his room that his wife has been murdered—and that he has been charged, in absentia, with the crime. Time passes. He builds his strength, makes a hopeless bid for escape. Then one day, quite without warning or reason, he’s set free, given money and a mobile phone, and invited to ?nd the man who stole ?fteen years of his life.
The subsequent game of cat-and-mouse invokes many of the classic genre characters—an evil, Machiavellian millionaire, a loyal girlfriend, a betrayed buddy. But it also considerably ups the ante: one sequence, in which some teeth are removed as a means of obtaining a confession, surpasses even the infamous torture sequence in John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man. To those familiar with Korean director Park Chan-wook’s work, none of this should come as a surprise. There’s something profoundly nasty about his cinema—and I don’t intend that as a criticism. On the contrary, it’s almost refreshing to ?nd a ?lmmaker so commercial in sensibility, so re?ned in technique, yet at the same time so unconcerned by the conventional dictates of sentimentality. That Old Boy won the Prix du Jury at this year’s Cannes was hardly surprising: with Quentin Tarantino chairing the jury, and Tsui Hark as one of the judges, the ?lm’s sleek ultra-violence was always going to be favourably received.

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