Korean Cinema – 올드보이 (Oldboy)

Park Chan Wook’s most famous film Oldboy is an epic tale of revenge, it was adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name. The film follows a man imprisoned for 15 years until he is released seemingly unexpectedly one day and his path to vengeance.

Park Chan Wook is a very visual director, his films are so immersive and beautifully shot. In Oldboy, the juxtaposition of ultra-violence with smaller more tender moments makes the film a rather emotional affair. It’s a movie not for the faint-hearted as the violence is rather graphic and the shock Oedipal twist is rather demented.

Park himself hinted that he was very much inspired by Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex. He gave his protagonist the name Oh Dae-su to be evocative of the incestuous King and elevated antagonist Woo-jin through a rather striking and preternatural yoga pose which was designed to represent Apollo, the god that gave Oedipus the prophecy. Moreover, the fact that Woo-jin guided most of the events in the film and lived in a swanky high tech penthouse (a metaphor for Olympus) only furthered that image of Godlike power over Dae-su the lowly mortal man unable to fight against the guiding hand of fate. It’s rather intriguing to view the film as a modern take on the Greek Tragedy as it adds a whole layer of meaning to the already complex and intriguing storyline.

Park Chan Wook is undeniably one of the greatest filmmakers in modern cinema whose work only goes from strength to strength. I am currently working my way through his filmography, so far I have seen (in order) Stoker, I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK, The Handmaiden, Thirst and now Oldboy. Chan Wook’s trademark violence, lush cinematography and wit really is an intriguing combination that’s hard to find elsewhere in Cinema.