Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Galaxina. For every Batman, there is a Meteor Man. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures.Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 2003 South Korean Park Chan-wook thriller Oldboy. (Last week: Uncle Sam)
“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
How far would you go for revenge? How far would you go for retribution against those who wronged you? Would you let it destroy you if it meant you would find justice? These are questions at the heart of this week’s Weird Watch, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. Make no mistake, this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s mean, nasty, and will leave you gutted with your jaw open by the end. Please note that going forward, I’ll be very sparse with any plot details because this is a movie that you need to experience as fresh as possible.
When I first started reading about this movie on the internet around 2004, I was fully immersed in the surge of East Asian horror and cinema that was coming our way. Classics such as Ju-On, Ring, and Battle Royale were just starting to hit America. South Korea’s Park was coming at it from a different angle: not out-and-out “scary” horror, but true psychological horror. Seeing the trailers and reading the sparsest bits of plot, all I knew about it was a man seeking revenge, a crazy badass hallway fight with a claw hammer, and the actor actually ate a live octopus. I had no idea what I was about to witness would leave devastated for hours afterward.
After his critically-acclaimed Joint Security Area, a murder mystery along Korea’s DMZ, he started a trilogy of movies that would cement his reputation as a must-watch filmmaker. The “Vengeance Trilogy” consists of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. Their connecting thread is the central theme of revenge and it’s true all-encompassing cost. All the protagonists had grievous wrongs inflicted on them, and they sought to balance the scales any way they could. Some were completely destroyed by it, others found a glimmer of hope at the end. Oldboy falls somewhere in the middle: at the end of the characters’ journey is the truth, but not redemption.
“Even though I’m no more than a monster – don’t I, too, have the right to live?”
The main “hero” is Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a nondescript businessman who we meet drunk and belligerent in a police station lobby. When he’s released on bail, he finds himself kidnapped and imprisoned without a reason. His captors refuse to acknowledge him, yet go to great lengths to keep him alive and healthy. From his television, the only outlet he has to the outside world, he sees his life being systematically destroyed. When he hits his 15th year of this torment, he’s quickly released as mysteriously as he was initially captured. The why of his captivity and who orchestrated it forms the central mystery propelling him forward, and when those answers are finally revealed, nothing of Oh Dae-su’s world is left standing.
As I said above, by the end of the movie I was absolutely floored. All I could do for days afterward was talk it up to my friends and try to get them to watch it because I HAD to discuss it with somebody. And it’s why I’m discussing it with you, dear Weird Watch readers. If you love the tragic and bizarre, the brutal and the beautiful, you owe it to yourselves to check it out.
Oldboy is currently available to watch both streaming and on disc on Netflix, as well as available to rent on Amazon Prime.
Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.