Oldboy (2003): The First Cut is the Deepest **contains spoilers**

Cover of "Oldboy"

With Oldboy (Oldeuboi) about to get the “Hollywood” re-make treatment I decided it was time to talk about what I thought about the original film. Directed by Chan-wook Park as part two of his ‘Vengeance Trilogy‘ (the first being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the last being Sympathy for Lady Vengeance).

Oldboy is based on the Japanese manga written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya.  It stars Min-sik Choi (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Quiet Family), Hye-jeong Kang (Three… ExtremesBattle Ground 625) and Ji-tae Yu (Into the MirrorLady Vengeanceas the three main protagonists.

At the beginning of the film  Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is in a police station. He has been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. He is still drunk. In the first few minutes of the film Oh Dae-su is angry, funny, forlorn, indignant and showing off the angel wings he has bought his daughter. We can see that despite his drunken state Oh Dae-Su is the Korean “Every-man” who loves to talk, have fun and loves his family.

After he is released from the police station, he stops to call his wife and tell her he is on his way home. As his wife answers the phone, Oh Dae-Su is rendered unconscious and wakes up in a hotel room. This hotel room will be his home and prison for the next fifteen years.

Oh Dae-Su’s only contact with the outside world is the television in his room. He learns by watching the television that his wife has been murdered (he is the main suspect) and that his daughter has been given to foster parents. At first Oh Dae-Su begs to the unseen person who delivers his meals to him through a slot in the door. He then starts hallucinating and attempts suicide.

He attempts to keep track of time by marking scratches on the wall. He also starts ‘shadow boxing’ and punching his wall to toughen his fists. He starts digging a hole in the wall to escape.

Oh Dae-Su is completely reliant on the television, It is his friend, teacher and lover; at one point he masturbates to the young women he sees on the television. Watching him in his room, we can see that his sanity has been stretched to it’s limits.

Just as Oh Dae-su is about to escape, he is knocked out with gas. He awakens on a roof in a huge steamer trunk. He has been given a mobile phone (cell phone) a new suit and some money. He is now desperate to find out who imprisoned him for fifteen years and why. His ultimate goal is revenge.

The first thing Oh Dae-Su does when he gets off the roof is to enter a sushi resturant. He tells the sushi chef, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) that he wants to eat something alive. She serves him live octopus. Immdiately after eating the octopus Oh Dae-Su passes out. Mi-do takes him to her apartment to look after him.

When he awakens, Oh Dae-Su tells Mi-do his story and she decides to help him. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, Oh Dae-Su, who is desperate for sex breaks into the bathroom while Mi-do is on the toilet. She had just previously told him not to ‘try anything’ and she backs this up by beating Oh Dae-su until he gives up.

Later she explains that even though she has been among people she too has been alone. The two wind up becoming lovers and Oh Dae-Su tells her to pray for a younger lover next time since he is so mucholder than she is.

The two then play detective to figure out where Oh Dae-Su was kept captive. As he was fed Chinese dumplings for fifteen years from a Blue Dragon restaurant  they go around to every Blue Dragon where Oh Dae-Su samples the dumplings. Once he finds the dumplings he figures out where he was kept prisoner. He tricks his way in and tortures his old warden until he tell him who locked him up.

Oh Dae-Su then has to fight his way out of the hotel against an army of thugs. Armed only with a hammer and his fists he makes his way out of the hotel and onto the street.

Now that he knows who his captor was, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu), he finds that Lee wants him to figure out why he was incarcerated. Oh Dae-Su learns that he and his captor went to the same school and that Lee was having incestuous sex with his own sister. Oh Dae-Su sees them at it and tells his best friend, just as he (Oh Dae-Su) is leaving the school for good, with the warning that he should not tell anyone. His best friend of course tells everyone and Lee’s sister kills herself.

English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents th...
Min-sik Choi

I’ve spent a lot of time setting up the main plot of the film. But I haven’t talked about what I think of as the film’s “set pieces.” It is the set pieces that have made this film’s popularity grow and made an impression on everyone who has seen it.

Set piece number one is that long violent, and punishing, corridor fight scene. It is a true show-stopper. It was done in one take, over a three day time span. You can tell that the actors and stuntmen are exhausted. Some of the “half-hearted” punches and kicks that are clear misses are due to the tiredness of the players instead of poor choreography.

Set piece number two is the scene where Oh Dae-Su cuts off his tongue. At the end of the film, he does this in order to pay his “debt” to Lee for inadvertently causing Lee’s sister to kill her self. He is also doing it in a last ditch attempt to save Mi-do from finding out that he, Oh Dae-Su is her father.

The whole theme of the film is two-fold, vengence (obviously) and incest. It really comes as no surprise that this won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and that Quentin Tarantino lavished so much praise on the film.

Oldboy is a Korean crowd pleaser. It helped open the door for Korean films to the rest of the world. In my opinion Chan-wook Park’s other films in his vengeance trilogy were better. Oldboy for all it’s colour and complex plot, was a bit choppy at the end. His other two films Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance were tighter and more neatly tied up at the end of each respective film.

Still Oldboy has shot to the top of the list of ‘must see’ Korean films and rightfully so. It is as good a place as any to start in regards to Korean cinema and certainly will not disappoint the novice Korean film fan.

love Korean cinema and adore Min-sik Choi as an actor. I would have to say that as of this moment, I think South Korea outshines the rest of the world with their film making. I am probably a little prejudicial in this claim as I think that Korea has two of the best directors in the world right now in Chan-wook Park and Jee-woon Kim.

I will of course watch the re-make. I am a huge fan of Spike Lee’s work and I think that Josh Brolin is one of the best actors in the business. It will be interesting to see what Mr Lee does with his version of the story.

If I had to give it a rating, I’d have to say a 3.5 out of 4 stars.  Watch it and you’ll see why Chan-wook Park is the film critic’s darling.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh and a Bit of Fame, Please.

It was reported the other day that 90% of school children who were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” answered with “I want to be famous.” Surprising?

Not really.

We live in a culture that thrives on the ‘instant’ celebrity. There are people who are famous for just being famous. This fame turns them into celebrities. The paparazzi follow their every move and regularly invade their privacy. These ‘famous’ people look out at us from the covers of magazines, newspapers and the six o’clock news.

Obviously children nowadays believe that being famous is a career choice.

Who can blame them? I can think of at least two “celebrities” who, by the value of their name alone, are famous. They then became more famous by the infamy gained by the ‘leaking’ of a sex tape. Rather than destroying the rather dubious celebrity status they already enjoyed, these sex tapes launched their “name fame” into the stratosphere.

I won’t mention any names here, but a big clue is that both these individuals have done quite a bit of reality television.  And the television shows came about after the tapes had been leaked.

The world is busily trying to sexualize  everyone in the world up to and including our children. In 1983 a television show called Mini Pops was broadcast on English television. It featured a lot of cute little pre-teen moppets who dressed in adult ‘theme’ clothes and performed choreographed song and dance routines from the world of pop.

The outcry was deafening. The public rose on their collective hindquarters and yelled, foul. Mini Pops was accused of sexualizing our children and putting on a ‘paedophile parade.’  It was yanked off the air quicker than you could say Gary Glitter.

And yet…

We have replaced the adult posturing of these young pre-teens, who were after all doing a live version of singing into a hairbrush, with the likes of Toddlers and Tiaras. T and T is just one example of the many vacuously named ‘mini’ beauty pageants.

These “pageants” feature very young girls in adult make-up, fake tans, perfect bridgework and swimsuits for goodness sake. Yet this is considered okay by the rules of today’s society. I have not heard one complaint from anyone about this.

The children who win these travesties become “famous” to a somewhat  lesser degree than the two ladies I mentioned above, but they are  very briefly ‘mini’ celebrities. Only for a short while though, because the very nature of the business their parents have put them in requires that winners be replaced yearly.

I guess the point I am trying to make, albeit rather long windily, is this; has anyone explained to these children who want to be famous when they grow up, the difference between fame and infamy?

Being infamous is very close to fame. Infamous people stare out at us from the same magazines, newspapers and six o’clock news programmes. By infamous I mean Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer  et al. And to a lesser degree the ‘stars’ of leaked sex tapes.

In a world where it has suddenly become okay to sexualize our children and where these same children believe that being famous is a career option it has become important, I think, to teach them the difference.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree, disagree, think I’m way off the mark?

Let me know.

Gacy as "Pogo The Clown".
Gacy as “Pogo The Clown”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thirst (2009): It’s In the Blood

There are a lot of people who watched this film simply because it’s by the iconic, cult favourite, South Korean director/auteur – Chan-wook Park. Chan-wook, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Seo-Gyeong Jeon which is based on the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, has not disappointed us with his version of a vampire tale.

This is completely unlike any of his ‘trilogy’ films. Of course each of the trilogy films were very different from each other. They all had a “similar” theme, but, visually they were very unalike. Park has, with Thirst, gone completely outside his comfort zone and brought us a masterpiece in the guise of Grand Guignol Theatre.

Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, Thirst is a love story, horror film, thriller, comedy and a tragedy. I never realised that it was possible to cram so many genres into a single film and more importantly still be able to pull it off. Chan-wook Park has not only managed to pull it off, but he has also, once again, made a film that really is genre-less.

Kang-ho Song plays Father Sang-hyun. He volunteers at a local hospital. He ministers the sick and dying patients, and he provides absolution when they die. He also takes confessions from the staff. But this job is taking a toll on his mental well being. He suffers secretly from depression and doubt about his profession.

He volunteers to become part of an ongoing medical experiment. A medical team is battling to find a cure for a virus known as the  Emmanuel Virus (EV). It affects only Caucasian and Asian men and it is almost always fatal. Sang-hyun allows himself to be injected with an experimental vaccine. When he starts to ‘bleed-out’ he receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.

He checks himself out of the experimental facility to find that he has been transformed in the public’s eyes as a ‘healer.’

He bumps into a childhood friend and gets an invite to join their Wednesday night mah-jong game. When he attends he gets re-acquainted with his friend’s adopted sister, who is now his wife. It turns out that all three spent a good part of their childhood together. The sister/wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) is drawn to Sang-hyun, just like she was drawn to him when they were children.

And so begins their ‘forbidden’ love affair. An affair that will escalate to murder and an almost complete surrender to their passion. It is the first mainstream  South Korean film to feature full-frontal adult male nudity, although not the first commercial film to do so. Made on a budget of five million dollars it can boast a gross revenue of well over thirteen million dollars.

I was completely engrossed in the film from the very first frame. I had no idea where the film was going and at no point could I second guess how it would end.

I suppose that is could be classed as an erotic thriller set in a fantasy. But as I said before I believe it cannot be put in any genre and that is what we have come to expect from Chan-wook Park.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relationships on line…The New Blind Date?

Come Dine with Me
Come Dine with Me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While  eating our tea and watching Come Dine With Me, a particular vice that we’ve grown accustomed to in our house (Don’t judge!), an advert for an ‘on-line’ dating service came on the telly. It was a very good one, they’d picked pleasant looking actors to play the parts of the singletons want to become a couple.

It prompted a short discussion, it had to be short after all we were on a commercial break.  My daughter mentioned that several people she knew had all met via the internet and were now in relationships. I found this very interesting, especially since most of the people that she was referring to were in their early twenties.

I suddenly realised that these young people would have had the same access to the internet that my daughter had. They were  probably about the same age when they started getting access to computers. It made me pause for thought.

Fourteen years ago, we got our first computer and we received a modem (dial up) for our initial ‘browsing’ on the web. In those days ‘chat rooms‘ were king. Every where you went had a chat room. Not only that but apart from the public chat rooms you could carry on a more in-depth conversation in a private version of the public room.

Chat rooms are still here, of course, but they are ‘supposedly’ monitored better.

Chat Room (film)
Chat Room (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horror stories abounded. A thirteen year old girl was groomed by a thirty year old sailor. A twelve year old boy found that ‘his mate’ on-line was a fifty-four year old paedophile. Parents were understandably concerned and not a little paranoid.

We were lucky, my daughter was not a stupid child and the one time she felt alarms firing off in her head, she logged off immediately.

We had friends who were even luckier. Their daughter went and actually met the faceless person she had been interacting with via the net. I say luckier because the guy she met turned out to be who he said he was, another teenage boy her age and not Hannibal Lecter.

Other parents and their children were not so lucky.

Some of the children still haven’t been found.

Police and community groups scattered literature all over the place warning of the danger that the internet posed and that chat rooms were the devil’s playground.

Now just a short time later, everyone it seems who is single is using the internet to meet other singles. I don’t know but I should imagine that this whole dating over the net thing is worth millions if not billions of dollars/pounds/euros or currency of your choice or country.

I had a sudden thought. Are internet dating sites the new blind date for the single folks searching for love, companionship, or a quick fumble in the dark? It certainly looks like it. And it appears to be safer than its predecessor the ‘real blind date.’ But I don’t trust it.

Why? Well I remember the horror stories too well. Hell, I related them to my wide-eyed daughter repeatedly. I didn’t want her to wind up a statistic in a ditch somewhere. Yes, I know we have Skype and windows messenger, yadda, yadda. But the couples I know who initiated their relationship through the computer never used any of the chat vehicles where you can actually see who you are talking to.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Is it all luck? Are the ‘dating Gods’ giving the single folks a break or are we becoming more truthful. Have the predators of the web moved on to easier targets? Or are they still out there and interested only in the very young fish they want to catch. It still scares me a little. The idea of meeting a stranger who you’ve only ‘spoken’ to on-line.

I’m not old-fashioned enough that I don’t like computers or the world-wide-web, I love ’em. I am computer literate enough to get my self in trouble.

No I just don’t like anything that just a few short years ago was considered dangerous. Despite the hazards that we all face when getting to know someone new, I would still rather do it the old -fashioned way.

Face to face and in person.

Black Swan (2010): Repulsion in a Tutu

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie PortmanMila Kunis and Vincent Cassel with knock out performances in smaller supporting roles by Barbara Hershey (as Mum) and Winona Ryder (as Last Years Girl) Black Swan  grabbed you by your metaphorical lapels and shook the hell out of you.

When I watched this film, I instantly thought two things. Firstly, that Black Swan made me think of Roman Polanski‘s    Repulsionand secondly that this was a “coming of age” film. Although at twenty-eight Portman’s character was a little too old to be reaching ‘self awareness’, but after watching her relationship with her mother, you can see why it has taken so long.

The plot in a nutshell is this: Girl is in a ballet company. The company decides their next performance will be of the Black Swan. Girl auditions for the lead in Black Swan. The director pushes the girl to explore her ‘dark’ side as the lead for Black Swan must be Apollonian and Dionysian in turns. In other words the lead must be both the white swan and the black swan. Girl experiences a lot of mental problems in her pursuit of self awareness. Girl gets the lead role. Girl performs.

The plot sound pretty innocuous but it packs a mean punch. Like Polanski’s Repulsion, Black Swan shows us the mental deterioration that is occurring in Portman’s character ( Nina Sayers) in her quest for the darkness in her soul.

Nina is obsessed with giving the perfect performance, period. She spends all her energy on getting everything technically perfect and as the White Swan she is just that, perfect. But the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) tries to explain to Nina that perfection is not enough, that she needs passion and abandonment for the dual role. He shows her Lily (Mila Kunis) a new member of the ballet company. Lily’s performance shows fire and passion and reckless abandonment. This, he tells Nina, is what she must achieve.

Where this film excels is in showing us why Nina is so repressed.  Her mother, played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey, is scarily obsessed with her daughter and her career. Mother has controlled Nina’s life with the goal of Nina succeeding where mum failed. Mother is constantly reminding Nina that it was her birth that destroyed her career. Little wonder then, that at twenty-eight, Nina is obviously still a virgin.

Nina begins hanging around with the Dionysian Lily in the hope that she can find her own passion. After a night out on the town, the two girls wind up having lesbian sex in Nina’s bedroom. Or do they? As the film progresses, we begin to question what is real and what is imagined by Nina. Some scene we know are real.

The scene where Nina, after being told by her director to go home and “touch” herself, wakes up in the morning and begins to masturbate. As she comes closer to a climax, she twists her head and see’s her mother sitting in a chair by her bed, asleep. Nina’s reaction is one of horrifying embarrassment. Her passion is gone as if she’d been dowsed in ice water and the fact that her mother could have caught her masturbating is mortifying.  This scene we know is all too real and we cringe at the notion of Nina’s almost being caught by mum.

Other scenes cannot be real, Nina’s fixation with last years Black Swan,  Beth Macintyre  (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) with the resultant effect of Nina seeing Beth in her house and during her lesbian sex session with Lily. These sightings can only be in Nina’s mind.

As a psychological horror film, Black Swan hits the nail so firmly on the head, that I was “creeped out” for three days after I watched it. I also took showers for the next three days, I was a bit leery of the bathtub after seeing the movie.

This is a “must-see” film. Set in the world of Ballet, it is about losing yourself and your mind. About what is real and what is not. It’s also about disturbing you and getting under your skin.

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