Old Boy

wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)

quick review:

If you think you saw it all with Kill Bill, think again. Old Boy is not meant for the weak hearted. Brace yourself for a vicious and sadistic revenge narrative that will only allow you to sit back for a moment. A moment to consider and question once the end credits roll. The performances are intense and absorbing, letting you sink into the gruesome force of the film. Old Boy is a must-watch because it uses violence to highlight emotions and not merely for shock value.

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Director: Park Chanwook
Running time: 120 minutes
Categories: World Cinema
Genres: Action, Revenge, Thriller
More Movie Info

How many times have you heard the phrase, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”? How cold do you think? Think deeply, about just how cold revenge can get. If you multiply that into 10, you’ll get the essence of Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy. A South Korean film that gained popularity after winning the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Old Boy will take you on a visual expedition where you’ll flinch, cover your eyes and stare in awe at the impact of vengeance.

Old Boy is the second installment of the vengeance trilogy, by Park Chan-wook, the other two being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The film revolves around Oh DeaSu (Choi Min-sik) who is imprisoned for 15 years, with no plausible reason that he could comprehend. He finds himself in a maze of conspiracies once he is unexpectedly released. His aim, then, is to seek revenge with the person behind the brutal captivation.

This is about 10 percent of the film. It has a gripping plot, that pulls the film forward, but the true beauty of Old Boy lies in how the film deals with human emotions when put in extreme situations. It makes you question who gives us the authority to punish, how far would someone go to seek revenge- Physical Torture? Solitary confinement? Death? And the most important question of all- Does revenge really liberate you from the pain of a horrible incident?

Without any answers, Old Boy incorporates a rigid mission with DeaSu and explores all those questions. You can sense his desperation. He moves between a series of emotions: anger, trepidation, regret, despair. And you move through these emotions with him. But behind all the violence, you aren't meant to lose faith in humanity but to question the depths of human destruction and witness the way in which we rise back.

You can notice the similarities that Old Boy shares with films like Kill Bill and Fight Club. But it stands out because along with letting you enjoy the triumphant violence and behavioral patterns of a desperate person put in absurd circumstances, it manages to outsmart your notions without losing momentum. With the use of rapid camera movements, mood music at the right points and coloured lighting, you feel like you’re a part of a ferocious video game with that added bonus of intellectual stimulation.

The three-disc collector’s edition of Old Boy has some remarkable features, including five behind the scene documentaries, a couple of deleted scenes that are equally exciting and interviews with the cast and crew. There’s also a 3-hour documentary called the ‘Autobiography of Old Boy’ that discusses the making of the film. The most interesting bit of the DVD is a small featurette titled ‘Le Grand Pix at Cannes’ that captures the response at the Cannes.

Old Boy is not a revenge epic; it does not place any judgments, and yet I can guarantee you’ll end the film with a few conclusions of your own. Maybe that wasn’t the motive of the film. Maybe it was just meant to be a stylized, aggressive depiction of revenge and its effect on people. As the cliché goes, you’ll get all that and much more.

This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Many gory scenes, lot’s of blood
  • Language: Explicit
  • Nudity & Sexual content: A couple of nude scenes
  • Concept: Strong and gripping
  • General Look and Feel: stylish and violent

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

Lead Actors:
Character Artists:
Music Director:

Old Boy - Cast, crew, links

Music Director:
Running time:
120 minutes

Comments (6)

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Old Boy is one of my favourite films and I might've watched it a dozen times already. But I have a pirated DivX of the film and when I saw a DVD review here, I wanted to check it out to see whether the DVD would be worth buying or not.

Two things :

1. This is more a movie review with one small paragraph thrown in for the extra features on the DVD. Not something one would expect on a DVD review. Should have been the other way round - an elaborate review of the DVD itself with a small paragraph (okay...a large one would've been fine too) thrown in for the film.

2. I also have a major problem with the comparison brought out between Old Boy, Kill Bill & Fight Club. All 3 films are beauties...though each goes in different directions. The similarities and differences between the 3 go much deeper than just a sideways glance at triumphant violence and the protagonist's behaviour.

Moreover, the comparison gives out the impression that Kill Bill & Fight Club are just celebrations of triumphant violence...and that they lose momentum and fail to outsmart the viewer's notions. Has the reviewer even watched Fight Club or Kill Bill 2?

Bollyfan: Firstly, I'd like to point out that the reviews I write in this section, talk about the experience of watching a film on a DVD - Which includes a review of the film, and how the DVD is different from watching the film in the theatre or say a pirated version, like your copy. But I will definitely try to incorporate more of the DVD features in my future reviews.

Secondly, I apologize if my use of language indicated that Kill Bill 1 or 2 and Fight Club, as opposed to Old Boy, fail to outsmart the notions of the viewer and lose momentum.

What I meant to say is, all three films, in theory, deal with the idea of violence and revenge. All three films, also, celebrate these both ideas in their own ways. This is a point of comparison I chose to bring out, NOT anywhere mentioning that this was the only one. Old Boy, I felt, apart from these similarities that bind the three films, managed to stand out in a distinct way.

I accept there are many other similarities and differences, and it all boils down to choice at the end of the day. The choice to include what you deem fit in a review :)

Nonetheless, I assure you I have seen all the films that have been references to in this review. If you still feel the review has come from a glance of an observation, than I would be glad to talk with you about this further.

Will keep your other points into consideration.

Swetha : Would be great if you could focus more on the DVD experience part...as that's what most of the readers would look for...especially for DVD reviews of older films. :)

In this specific case, you are talking about a 3 Disk collector's edition and giving out a mere listing of what's available on the DVD (something I can very well get from even amazon.com) doesn't really justify this piece as a DVD review. Its a film review trying to masquerade as one. You could have paid more attention to things like the 3 hour making of documentary and tied it down to the final impact of the film, insights gleaned from the interviews etc.

As for the comparison with Kill Bill & Fight Club, I don't think you need to apologize for anything. Though the language did imply that. I agree that Old Boy stands out in a distinct manner but your language didn't do justice to either the 3 films themselves or the point you were trying to make.

While all 3 films play on the themes of retributive violence, they all stand apart from each other in terms of the intent, the visual theming, the sub-texts, the language, the background music etc. I agree that the ultimate choice of what to talk about and what not to is completely your prerogative, but my point here is that names have been dropped out of a hat and not followed up by anything substantial. Hope you get what I'm trying to say here.

I wasn't really insinuating that you haven't seen the films...that comment was not meant to be taken at face value. That was more of a snide remark at the superficiality of the comparison between the three films. I don't intend to be rude...but I also feel very strongly about certain things and it reflects in my comments. I agree its not fair on my part but that's the way I am.

Wogma : Do you have any provision for a signature for commenters? I guess I'll have to carry a disclaimer with all my comments. :)

I hate to persist, but what you feel is not substantial is merely me bringing out certain aspects of a comparison that i felt was most relevant to me, as I was discussing the theoretical aspect of the film.

Because the review is by and large following a consistent structure of talking about the theoretical aspects of the films, the points of comparison have been such.

This is no way means I have dropped names, or made a superficial comparison :) Just wanted you to see that, I have stuck to the tone of the review. It LARGELY focuses on ONLY the theoretical aspects of the film. I will repeat that this in no way means that these are the only points to compare the films with. And hence, not superficial or name dropping.

But that is just me being defensive. You can chose to disagree. I feel when a choice is being made, terms like superficial and name dropping can be avoided, especially since I have made myself pretty clear about choosing what to talk about.

@Bollyfan I agree that a little more on DVD features, especially when they exist should be mentioned. But, I would certainly want more than a paragraph, even if it is long, about the movie itself. The DVD exists because of the film, after all.

As for comparisons, you know as well as I do that it is humanly impossible to cover ALL aspects of a film in a review and yet manage to keep it from being 'laborious', let alone covering all possible aspects of the movies referenced to in a review. And there is no real work-around right? Not to bring up other films (which I end up doing most of the times)? But that is sort-of taking away from your review, because such mentions bring in imagery for the reader, which is necessary. Tough hai.

Old Boy, nice film. It's Bollywood remake, Zinda, according to me, a better execution.

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