VenueWalter Reade Theater
In person: star Choi Min-Sik!
Note: Star Yoon Jin-Seo will no longer be in person at this screening.
If there’s one movie that’s come to represent 21st century Korean cinema, it’s Oldboy. Hitting international audiences like a hammer to the head, it came screaming off Korean screens and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, earned effusive praise from jury president Quentin Tarantino, snagged dozens of film festival awards, and inspired Roger Ebert to write, “We are so accustomed to ‘thrillers’ that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it’s a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose.” And Oldboy does have a purpose. Its purpose is to mess you up.
Choi Min-Sik plays the kind of drunk, family-neglecting, workaholic, sad sack businessman who clogs the Seoul sidewalks on weekday nights. One evening, after missing his daughter’s birthday, he’s abducted and imprisoned in a hotel room. For 15 years. Then, without rhyme or reason, he’s released and he has just one thought: revenge. Having turned himself into a stoic pain machine—the kind who can dish it out, and the kind who can take it—while in his hotel room limbo, he hits the streets looking for answers. Who locked him up? Why? What crime did he commit? He finds answers, but they’re far worse than anything he could have imagined.
The second installment in director Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” Oldboy lacks the stark sadism of the first film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and it doesn’t reach the kind of emotional hysteria of the third film, Lady Vengeance, but it manages to be a more perfect movie than either. An example of bravura filmmaking, it fires on all cylinders, from the breathtaking action set pieces and the pitch-perfect performances, to the puzzle-box script whose pieces snap into place at the last minute with a sickening logic, this is one of those rare instances when a director, his cast, and his crew, are all operating at the top of their game. And that’s why Oldboy is more than just another atrocity exhibition. It’s also an exhilarating example of pure cinematic thrills.