It’s June. It’s Chicago. It’s summer. Now is the time to cheer on the Sox and apologize for the Cubbies. However, not being on Columbia’s campus everyday is no reason to let the cinematic muscles atrophy. I’ve been spending hours on Netflix, catching up on movies that were recommended to me by my colleagues. The first movie on the summer “must see” list was Old Boy.
This violent psychological thriller was directed by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook. It’s about Oh Dae-su, an average husband and father, who finds himself locked away in what appears to be a dingy motel room without knowing his crime or his captors. Oh Dae-su maintains his sanity by shadow boxing and watching television. Then after 15 years, he is inexplicably released and goes hunting for his captors who framed him for the murder of his wife.
What first brought Old Boy on my radar was that it screened in the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prix. Also Spike Lee (Malcom X, The Inside Man) is currently working on a remake with Josh Brolin (Milk, No Country For Old Men, Goonies…yeah, Goonies) as the lead role. That withstanding, I was taken in by the way this movie uses visuals to ratchet up the gut wrenching suspense.
Chan-wook is masterful at bringing angst, anger, and dark humor to the screen. The movie opens with a shot of shaggy haired Oh Dae-Su holding a man, who’s clutching a poodle, over the edge of a building by his tie. Right off we know this is going to be an intense movie. There is another compelling shot where Oh Dae-su devours a live, struggling octopus. You cannot turn away from the car wreck.
The violence and queeze factor is why I couldn’t look away. But what about story? What can I say? I though it was pretty weak. (SPOILER ALERT!) After Chan-wook builds the suspense to the confrontation between Oh Dae-su and his captor, the movie takes a demented turn.
We discover Oh Dae-su was imprisoned because as a child he saw his captor, an old schoolmate, having an incestual relationship with his sister. WTF? That came out of nowhere. Then we find out Oh Dae-su was hypnotized to fall in love and have sex with a young woman that turns out to be his own daughter. Are you kidding me? The hypnotism thing would get me booted out of here.
And then it gets better. In order to keep the secret from the girl and show how repentant he is for humiliating his captor, Oh Dae-su cuts out his own tongue. Don’t get me wrong…it all looked great, but the third act was weak and full of gore for shock value. Think of Saw or Hostile. That being said, I think his use of camera angels is something I can adopt. This is what filmmakers do. We look at movies we like and borrow techniques and then adapt them to our style. Now I’m curious to see Spike’s version.
There is another compelling shot where Oh Dae-su devours a live, struggling octopus. You cannot turn away from the car wreck.