Tuesday, 23 February 2010

My Lover's Song Is Too Short.

Following on from Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Park Chan-wook came through with the Cannes Grand Prix winning Oldboy, the second part of his vengeance trilogy (to be followed shortly by Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.)

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), outside a police station after being bailed out by a friend for drunk and disorderly conduct on his young daughter's birthday, suddenly disappears, and is held captive in a cell of sorts for fifteen years - why, he does not know. With nothing but a television to pass the time, he begins training and plotting revenge on whoever has done this for him. Fifteen years surrounded by four walls, never changing, with no means of escape sets his mind ruthlessly on revenge.

Upon his release, a sudden awakening inside a case on the top of a high rise building, he wanders into a sushi restaurant, where he meets sushi chef Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong.) Whilst eating a live octopus he suddenly collapses, and finds himself back at Mi-do's house, ill on her bed, blaming fifteen years of poor diet leading to an extreme vitamin deficiency for his collapse. Whilst he is recovering, Mi-do reads the diaries he kept in his prison, outlining all those he has wronged who may be seeking their own back, and the musings of his mind, detailing his experience. Mi-do then becomes his accomplice in trying to find first his daughter (who they are told is now living in Sweden with a foster family) and then whoever it is who wronged him.

They begin by tracking down the dumpling house that served him his food every day (known to Dae-su as he once found an identifying piece of paper in his food), trailing a delivery boy to the hotel. Dae-su breaks in and accosts the proprietor, discovering that people pay him to lock people up for however long they wish to, and that all he has as far as identification of Dae-su's kidnapper is a tape recording outlining his reasoning when Dae-su was locked up. Caught in an epic fight with a number of people in the corridor, Dae-su succeeds in overcoming them but is quite seriously injured - he collapses on the street and a stranger puts him in a taxi, directing it to Mi-do's address and referring to Dae-su by name.

The next day this stranger identifies himself to Dae-su as Lee Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae), telling Dae-su he is his kidnapper. Woo-jin gives Dae-su five days to find out why he was locked up, and if he is successful Woo-jin will kill himself, but if he is not, Mi-do (whom Dae-su has become quite intimate with) will die.

I will stop there on the synopsis as anything more will start to give it all away. Rest assured that this is the least intriguing part of the story - from here it twists and turns time and time again, becoming more and more sordid with every second, before ending in a final bloody battle.

Mr Vengeance, as outlined, was a good film. A very good film, even. Oldboy is brilliant. The performance by Min-sik is extraordinary, as the hardened by still feeling victim, paying for something relatively trivial in amounts far beyond due recompense. Hye-jeong as his love interest is dutiful to a fault, something you don't quite understand until much later in the film. And Ji-tae does wonders as the antagonist of the piece, with an almost constant smile playing around his lips and eyes, making him all the more menacing for his lack of remorse. Shot by Chung Chung-hoon, Oldboy is wonderfully rich, taking the ganster sensibility of a cold Seoul and making it beautiful in its own gritty way. Cool tones dominate, so the moments of colour really shine through.

It is an astonishing piece of work, truly compelling. 5 stars.

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