Violent, twisted, and intense, OLDBOY isn’t an easy movie to watch. Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film was re-released by Neon earlier this month for its 20th anniversary, and I’m glad I could experience it in theaters. One of my favorite parts of watching iconic films is realizing their influence on the genre and understanding why movies like OLDBOY have been remade, adapted, rehashed, and revisited.
There’s no way I could’ve seen OLDBOY when it was released; I was focused on more age-appropriate fare such as RUGRATS! GO WILD and BROTHER BEAR. Even now, the viscerality of Park’s film is hard to stomach, from torture (both psychological and very, very physical) to jaw-dropping fights to moments of incredibly intense emotion. Even as an octopus lover and calamari-avoider, seeing Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik) eat a cephalopod whole and wriggling was one of the tamest scenes of the film.
OLDBOY is tragic and specifically reminiscent of Ancient Greek tragedies. I love films and stories like this; the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy is terrifying yet so satisfying. Dae-Su’s quest for vengeance leads him deeper and deeper down his path; seeing a character ignore their fatal flaw is so frustrating to watch…but it does make for excellent storytelling. Watching OLDBOY is watching a complex, twisted story unfold, but it’s never convoluted.
This OLDBOY review wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to an iconic single-take hallway fight scene that has clearly influenced recent movies, including GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 3 and JOHN WICK. Watching a fight take place in real-time, without cuts, added so much intensity to this scene and a real gravity to the brutality. I’ve rewatched this scene twice after watching the movie, and I can’t really look at a hammer the same way again.
On top of its eye-averting scenes and relentless action, OLDBOY’s mysterious villain is one of the most terrifying I’ve seen in film, providing a James Bond-type of adversary, but without a Bond to stop him. Park’s movie was one of the first Korean movies to break into the US mainstream, providing a path for recent films like DECISION TO LEAVE and PARASITE. Park is also a showrunner for the upcoming adaptation of THE SYMPATHIZER, which I’m incredibly excited about.
OLDBOY is available to rent or buy wherever you get your movies (just make sure it’s the 2003 one.) I watched it remastered in theaters in celebration of its 20th anniversary.