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Overall Rating
3.38

Awesome42.95%
Worth A Look: 14.1%
Just Average: 9.62%
Pretty Crappy: 4.49%
Sucks: 28.85%

10 reviews, 96 user ratings


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Oldboy (2005)
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by Robert Flaxman

"Hammers home the emotion, but little else."
3 stars

Oldboy is a film that canít decide what it wants to be. Is it a serious emotional drama or a violent action romp? Is it funny or straight-faced? Is its main character a hero or an anti-hero? Is his nemesis the villain or merely an antagonist? In fact, all of these things are true at different times during the film. The sole constant through Oldboy is the emotional intensity of its characters, but this is undercut by the scattershot nature of the narrative and style.

Kidnapped on a busy street and trapped in a room for 15 years with no explanation, Oh Dae-Su is suddenly released Ė with an equal lack of explanation Ė and then informed that his imprisonment was a riddle to which he must now find an answer. When Oh comes face to face with his captor, he nearly kills him Ė until he is reminded that if he gets his revenge quickly, he will never know why he was locked up.

Upon his release, Oh meets a young female chef named Mi-Do, whom he befriends in awkward fashion. The two seem to be drawn to each other by their mutual loneliness; the eventual love scene recalls the infamous scene in Monsterís Ball Ė there is nothing sexy here, just longing, pain, and awkward realism.

But Oldboy isnít satisfied with its emotional drama side, and also sets Oh against various characters in a bizarre sort of underworld. In one scene that seems only to exist to be talked about later, Oh fights off around a dozen men in a narrow hallway armed with only a hammer, and the entire fight is seen in only one take. Oh appears to be taking out his anger and desire for revenge on the people who were partially responsible for his imprisonment (the men are employees of a strange captors-for-hire business), but the scene practically revels in its superfluousness and incongruity.

Still, the emotional aspect is intense enough to carry the film for most of its first half. At that point, Oh decides to stop being Rambo and start being Sherlock Holmes, and the film plods along in expository fashion until the ending, which is rather guessable. Oldboyís concept is interesting, but it chose one where there was virtually no way there wasnít going to be a big scene at the end where one character explains everything that happened. The scene in which this inevitably happens is just as didactic as one might expect.

Director Park Chan-Wook brings out the emotions again at the end of the film, but his charactersí motivations areÖ letís say, to avoid spoiling anything, that theyíre not exactly mainstream. Park deserves some credit for dealing with these emotions dispassionately, but itís also a little weird and may well put off large portions of the audience. The final confrontation between Oh and his tormentor has its power, but it, too, devolves into an orgy of violence that seems to serve little wider purpose.

Oldboy is a movie whose main character has a right to be violent, and Park does a good job of establishing that. The violence itself isnít always as justified. In one of the first scenes after his release, Oh comes upon a man about to jump off a building and convinces the man to stay alive long enough to hear Ohís story. When he has finished, the man wants to tell him about his own story, but Oh walks away; as he exits the building, the man plummets to his death in the background. Oh may be warped from his 15 years of imprisonment, but this scene just feels needlessly sadistic and contributes nothing to Ohís character that later scenes donít do much better. The therapeutic value of pulling out one of his captorsí teeth with a hammer is at least understandable; grinning when an unrelated man kills himself is going a bit far.

At least enough of the violence has a purpose that the film doesnít feel totally ridiculous, but the explicitness sometimes goes overboard. Just who is supposed to be getting punished here, Ohís former captors or the audience? And what reaction is Park going for? Are we supposed to feel torn about rooting for Oh because of some of his actions, or are we supposed to cheer on his discount dentistry? That this is never made clear is interesting, but ultimately frustrating.

Oldboy isnít as smart as it thinks it is, and it isnít as consistent as it should have been. It has plenty of scenes that work, though, mostly for their raw emotional power. Park may not have been able to decide exactly what kind of film he was making, but he nailed the strongest emotions nine times out of ten. In the end, the good outweighs the bad in Oldboy, making it a solid revenge drama that just hits a number of wrong notes.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10328&reviewer=385
originally posted: 08/31/05 06:00:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/23/18 Oliver Twist Totally overrated. Guesses the "surprise" after 10 minutes. Motive not believable. 1 stars
5/11/15 Christian Paulson Hammertime! 5 stars
5/08/12 Marty Bold twists, sick story with good acting. Some parts not needed for main plot. 4 stars
8/12/11 jiropan classic disturbing film............excellent plotlines......... 5 stars
1/25/11 Keireki Sorry, movie was shit. 1 stars
12/30/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Might be the most inventive, offbeat and imaginative movie of 2003 5 stars
9/22/10 stam JUST EPIC 5 stars
4/17/10 PAUL SHORTT TENSE, VIOLENT AND UNPLEASANT 2 stars
3/26/10 tina incest!!!!!! ewwww, i think they have lots of problems to film something like that 1 stars
2/21/10 Langano Brilliant. 5 stars
9/22/09 Blind n Retarded not set in tokyo. not a waitress. not his girlfriend. 4 stars
8/10/09 menten shocked... in a good way. one and only in the world. 5 stars
4/16/09 Total Crap I love asian extreme films, this has one of the sickest twists I've ever seen in a movie. 4 stars
8/05/08 Bnorm Dae Su was a beast he fucked up like 30 dudes with nothing but a hammer and his fists! 5 stars
5/15/08 Marlow You feel sick to stomach but there's no denying the movie is impressive 5 stars
5/29/07 Charles Tatum Sucks you right in, with an ending Americans would never dare do 5 stars
3/27/07 MP Bartley Crazy stuff, that strains plausibility by the end. Mostly grandly and vividly entertaining. 4 stars
2/13/07 Double M STYLISH, SICK and EASILY misunderstood. Choi gives 1 of the BEST performances EVER filmed. 5 stars
1/04/07 Eric P. Amazing revenge flick. 5 stars
12/04/06 Leslie i liked Sympathy for Lady Vengeance better. But Mr. Choi's acting is excellent!! 4 stars
10/12/06 Hoggydog STOP POSTING SPOILERs! COUGHtrigger happy. good movie. 5 stars
9/13/06 Stubby Expertly-crafted, but...ugh...that ending. 3 stars
8/19/06 Dyll This film was wicked. Brilliantly written. Don't believe the naysayers. 5 stars
5/25/06 malcolm classic revenge flick. i'm surprised, but glad, no american has redone this one 5 stars
4/24/06 Furuta One of the best films ever!!! 5 stars
3/11/06 Rick Yamakoshi A visual and moral assault on the senses. 5 stars
2/20/06 Agent Sands Truly unbelievable. One of my top 10 favorite movies of all time. 5 stars
1/19/06 ChappyX Park's SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is heads and shoulders above this letdown of a film. 1 stars
1/11/06 TriggerHappy That daughter fucking shit is just disturbing as hell... 1 stars
1/05/06 SlappytheFrog Amazing first hour, followed by a much-less-interesting one and a sucky ending. Meh. 3 stars
11/25/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME... YOU GUYS DON'T KNOW A GOOD FILM WHEN YOU SEE ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/22/05 hibbyX Will you people get off the hallway fight already?! It was NOT that great! Geeeeeeeeeez!! 2 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Brilliant. One sequence is jaw-dropping. Matrix what? 4 stars
11/20/05 skippy A few good scenes, a whole lotta crappy ones. No sale. 1 stars
11/20/05 Kibble I really didn't see what the big deal was, other than the incest and octopus-eating. 1 stars
11/05/05 Sin-Jin Smyth Yeah, TPS is right...excellently-made crap. 1 stars
11/01/05 mind dump Is vengeance worth it? Yes...therefore, this film is shit. 1 stars
11/01/05 shackle Dae su deserved vengeance and no only did he not get it...he got fucked over even worse!!!! 1 stars
10/28/05 JesseKnobs I agree...well-made but not very entertaining and really fucking sick. 1 stars
10/28/05 TPS stunningly made and truly aweful to watch 2 stars
10/25/05 Crumbcake Daughter fucking...ew. 1 stars
10/23/05 Suk-R-Punch Like a joke with no punchline? No...just like a joke. 1 stars
10/18/05 Gumbo I agree that this was totally pointless. The end was not only gross, but meaningless. 1 stars
10/16/05 Crapture GARBAGE, WORST REVENGE FILM EVER MADE...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
10/15/05 OodlesofOs The most pointless film ever made. Like a joke with no punchline, but another joke setup. 1 stars
10/13/05 gasp Shitty movie meets shitty movie meets dorky fanboys who love what others tell them to!!!!!! 1 stars
10/12/05 Agent Sands The Road Warrior meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Saw meets Fight Club. 5 stars
10/12/05 Bryant Gumby Best revenge film, despite the fact that no revenge was actually had by the main character? 1 stars
10/11/05 Johnny Cake ...and this is entertaining...how?? 1 stars
10/11/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, BEST REVENGE FILM EVER MADE...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/10/05 Biz-e This should have been called LAMEBOY. 1 stars
9/22/05 Jakub Watch AUDITION instead... 1 stars
9/18/05 mung He eats a squid and fucks his daughter...there, you don't need to see this now. Overrated! 1 stars
9/11/05 Bloodclot critics like dung 1 stars
9/06/05 Bitchum The hallway fight was great! It was everything else that licked twat... 1 stars
9/05/05 JubJub I think this is the most overrated movie of all-time. 1 stars
9/03/05 Tjalda L. Schiel What a disgusting mess. What is wrong with you critics? Ugh. 1 stars
9/03/05 Craven I really didn't see what the big god damn deal was. I thought it blew. 1 stars
9/02/05 Mailk By the end, you feel as bad as that poor squid. 1 stars
9/01/05 Edward This was like dining upon a big, massive elephant turd. 1 stars
8/31/05 unlimited this is the most schizophrenic movie i've ever seen...'couldn't decide what it wanted to be 2 stars
8/30/05 Vasquez do you guys really watch these movies or do you just praise them based on what others say? 1 stars
8/29/05 Brisbane Possibly the most unpleasant movie I've ever sat through. 1 stars
8/28/05 Blissful Johnny Chan-wook Park: Korea's answer to Tarantino...only without that pesky talent stuff. 1 stars
8/28/05 Jabberjaw The ending was just too disgusting for me...plus, I wanted Dae-su to triumph, but he didn't 1 stars
8/27/05 hicks You loved this because everyone told you to, lapdogs. 1 stars
8/27/05 Joker What was the big deal about THIS?!?!?! 1 stars
8/26/05 cam-ron As good as everyone says...only the opposite of that. 1 stars
8/25/05 Termite There are a ton of amazing Korean films worth seeing and discussing, this isn't one of them 1 stars
8/24/05 Copper No squid, no hallway fight, no incest = no one would even mention it. 1 stars
8/24/05 salamone All the people who recommended this to me got a punch in the neck the next morning. CRAP!! 1 stars
8/22/05 MC Serch People who say "Best Movie of the Year" obviously didn't see any other movies that year. 1 stars
8/21/05 Chumscrubber God, this film is the very definition of the word OVERRATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/20/05 marv If the point was "revenge is bad," why does the bad guy get away with HIS revenge? Huh???? 1 stars
8/20/05 Rever_Bear-Trap Possibly, one of the finest definitions of a psychological/revenge flick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
8/19/05 Cardigan Geez, what film were YOU all watching? Because I'd love to see THAT one, instead of this. 1 stars
8/19/05 Gaston POOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
8/18/05 JiJi What a lame, disappointing ending. Ruined the whole experience for me. 3 stars
7/05/05 Mike The sort of film that stays with you long after you watch it 5 stars
6/29/05 cristeen69 liked the film, thought it was good, especially ji tae, incetuous overtone 4 stars
6/18/05 aldo ..not much action..story is complex...the end is disgusting 2 stars
5/31/05 Scott Reynolds Get Hammered!! 4 stars
5/16/05 Shawn Borucki Nails you in the head with a hammer. Seems predictible until it changes on a drop of a dime 4 stars
4/15/05 Jozev I felt sick after watching it but I love the creativity and the cinematography. 5 stars
4/12/05 Junior LaRoche Best movie of 2004!!!! 5 stars
4/06/05 Roderick Cromar Too horrific to be called entertainment. That octopus..... 2 stars
3/28/05 KD Like drilling your skull AND getting shot in the balls 1 stars
3/22/05 The Mockingbird terriffic sick surprising complex movie 5 stars
3/12/05 Mike An instant classic. 5 stars
2/25/05 James Kiang Excellent, though the big revelation makes it difficult to blindly recommend. 4 stars
2/13/05 neonjazz Absolutely, undoubtably a masterpiece! 5 stars
2/12/05 Niklas Salonen Absolutely no Good 2 stars
2/08/05 Chris C Amazing Movie, loved it!! 5 stars
11/02/04 Derek Horrible! Extravagant! Superb! A masterpeace! 5 stars
9/18/04 John it was a great movie. Highly Recommended 5 stars
9/01/04 Gavin Peach Excellent! I love Chan Wook Park's films and this is another truimph! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010

UK
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