The website “Film School Rejects” recently picked the top 30 movies of the decade and Old Boy (2003) landed in the number 7 slot so I wanted to give it a shot so I would share my respect for this film with you.
The film follows the story of one Oh Dae-su, who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without knowing his captor’s motives. That is right for 15 years, stuck in the same hotel room. No contact with the outside world except TV. For food, he eats dumplings and every so often, his captors will flood the room with gas that sedates him the same gas apparently that the Russians used on the Chechens during their disputes. The sedation allows his captors to groom him i.e. cut is hair and fingernails, but also prevents him from committing suicide meaning that someone is constantly watching him. Oh Dae-su is not the only prisoner at the facility, we are shown that there are in fact others in the same predicament as he is: stuck in some sort of private prison for as long as the customer wants you there. No judge, no jury, nothing to get you out of the hotel prison cell. The concept gives new meaning to the Eagles song hotel California “you can check out but you can never leave.”
While watching his only outlet to the outside world, he learns that his wife has been murdered, a crime for which he is the prime suspect (though he has the perfect alibi), and that his daughter has been adopted. In addition to his consistent television viewing, Oh Dae-su begins to shadowbox and harden his fists by punching the walls. As anyone would he pledges revenge on his captor(s) and secretly begins trying to tunnel out of his cell. Then after 15 years he is released and finds himself on the roof of a building with a cellphone and some money no explanation or any other information about why 15 years of his life were spent in a hotel room.
At a sushi restaurant, he meets a young woman Mi-do but passes out after boozing it up. Mi-do takes him to her apartment where Dae-su puts the moves on her. She explains that she will have sex with her just not now. Cleverly, they track down the restaurant that supplied the dumplings he ate while imprisoned and use it to discover those who held him captive. After justifiably threatening the owner, the only explanation for the confinement is that he “talks too much.” Dae-su must fight his way out of the prison past dozens of henchmen using a hammer.
Then comes the really weird part. The tail involves incest, rumors and the suicide of others. Apparently, Oh Dae-su mistakenly spreads the rumor in school that his captor and his sister had an incestuous relationship, which caused false signs of pregnancy and eventual suicide.
Eventually we find out that the events surrounding Dae-su were orchestrated, as well as by using a hypnotist, to cause Dae-su and Mi-do to commit incest. Woo-jin gives Dae-su a photo album. As Dae-su flips through of pictures of his family, he witnesses his daughter grow older in the pictures, until discovering that Mi-do is actually his daughter (the sushi chef). The warden then betrays Dae-su with a similar photo album ready for Mi-do. A horrified Dae-su begs Woo-jin to conceal the secret from Mi-do, groveling for forgiveness before slicing out his own tongue as a symbol of his silence.
We then see Dae-su working with a hypnotist in winter to help him forget the tragic and even evil deeds that he has done or done to him. Our last glimpse of Dae-su is an expressionless face—no one knows what his fate will be.
Old Boy is highly credentialed; it won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and high praise from the President of the Jury, director Quentin Tarantino. Voters on CNN named it one of the ten best Asian films ever made. The film currently has a rating of 8.4 on IMDb, being the highest rated Korean movie and the 88th best movie of all time on IMDb Top 250. No small feat for a foreign film not made by Kurosawa. Moreover, an American remake is planned for release in 2013 directed by Spike Lee starring Samuel L. Jackson. In its country of origin, South Korea, the film was seen by 3,132,000 filmgoers and it ranks fifth place for the highest grossing film of 2003.
What do I think about this film? It is one hell of a movie. The film is original, complex and unpredictable, all of the elements I think a good movie should have. Old Boy is also well cast and has an ending that I believe is intentionally vague generate conversations and differing opinions. It is a hard film so be ready, but by all means necessary give the Old Boy a try, you might be surprised even if you don’t like foreign films.