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.

Korean Cinema - 싸이보그지만 괜찮아 (I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK)

I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK released in 2006 is Park Chan-Wook‘s 7th film as director and is a romantic comedy set in a mental institution.

The film follows Cha Young-Goon (Im Soo-Jung) a young woman who believes she is a Cyborg, she wanders around talking to machines and licking batteries to charge and Park Il Soon (Rain) a young man who to his belief can steal people’s skills and traits, he himself wanders around often wearing homemade cardboard rabbit masks spying on people to find possessions he wants to steal from them.

I’m a Cyborg is a fundamentally a love story at it’s heart, a totally oddball, disturbing yet endearing one and the nearest comparisons I can make in western cinema would be Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie and possibly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry but even these films aren’t a great comparison when you take a look at the film a little deeper. And I must say I fell in love with the tone of the film almost immediately due to its curious mix of cuteness and darkness, at one point Cha goes homicidal and shoots all the doctors at the institution, while this is, of course, a delusion it’s still quite a bloody and jarring moment in the film and the way she transforms into this cyborg killing machine with fingers as guns is quite disturbing yet amusing at the same time. Then in contrast  in another scene Park Il-Soon pretends to fit a device into Cha’s back to help her digest food (as she has been starving herself due to her belief that she is a cyborg) it’s perhaps the cutest moment of the film as us viewers get to see a kind and empathetic side to Park who delicately draws a door on her back with a pencil while pretending that he is actually using a knife to cut her open so he can fit the device , It’s just such a beautiful and sweet moment that melted my heart.

Another great thing about I’m a Cyborg is the cinematography and how lovely the colour palette is, in a way the film feels like an enchanting fairy tale (albeit with a dark undertone) due to the sweeping camera movements, high-key lighting  and the airy colours of the sets make the film seem a lot more light-hearted than it actually is. This contrast in theme – an antisocial kleptomaniac & a delusional woman who is trying to find a way to kill orderlies to find her purpose in life find love and codependency in a mental institution – and presentation – pastel colours, bright lighting, quirky humour and cuteness abound – forms something of an oxymoron which in itself is representative of the film which is actually really clever.

Basically, Park Chan Wook is a genius and you’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t watch this film.

ps. let me know your thoughts on the film in the comment section below I would love to know what you thought of this little gem.