"A film both extreme and tender, yet tremendously entertaining." | Photo: Arrow Films

If you've heard anything about Old Boy, it is probably about how violent it is. With multiple stabbings, slashings, beatings and various appendage removals, it certainly can't avoid the charge. But instead of being a straightforward revenge thriller, South Korean director Park Chan-wook has managed to graft on aspects of beauty, pathos and tragedy - lots of tragedy. In the process he has created a film both extreme and tender, yet tremendously entertaining, and with so much more to offer than most action movies.

When we first meet Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) in a police station, he is all too recognisable, the kind of bumbling, annoying middle-aged drunk, trying not to piss himself, who pesters you every other weekend. Towards the end, he has been transformed into a man, constantly on the move, containing a barely suppressed rage, which allows him to take on dozens of armed men with only a claw hammer and make threats like no one else. For instance: "Whoever it was, just wait. Wait a bit more. I'll rip your whole body apart and no one will be able to find your body anywhere. Because I'm going to chew it all down."

Copy picture

Fifteen years in solitary for no reason will do that to a man. Suddenly released, with the same lack of explanation, Oh Dae-su does the only thing that makes any sense to him. He goes looking for answers and to hurt those responsible.

Choi Min-sik comes across as a punch drunk, revved up Robert Mitchum. With a character arc taking in bumbling oafishness, bloody-minded vengeance seeking, redemption and humbleness, he never hits a false note.

What is great about the film is that the direction, music and characterisations also display a similar range. No two scenes resemble each other and when placed together, Park Chan-wook ensures that they make perfect sense.

In a film that features hypnotists, lonely giant ants riding the subway, super strong albino henchmen and suicidal poodle owners, he has given us something that is extreme and enjoyable like none other.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2005
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A revenge drama from South Korea creates a mystery for the long term prisoner who is released. Now out to own as part of the box set.
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Read more Oldboy reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ****
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Joon-hyung, Park Chan-wook, Tsuchiya Garon, Minegishi Nobuaki

Starring: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung, Chi Dae-han, Oh Dal-su, Kim Byoung-ok, Lee Seung-shin, Yoon Jin-seo, Lee Dae-yun, Oh Gwang-rok

Year: 2004

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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