South Korean Cinema: My thoughts on “Oldboy”




Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

One of my goals this year was to introduce myself to a new type of cinema. I asked around and people told me I should watch some South Korean films based on the darker themes these films tend to explore. The first film on my list was Oldboy, probably one of the most famous films to come out of South Korea and one that I’m disappointed I didn’t watch earlier. It’s based on the manga of the same name which I am going to try and read at some point too!

Oldboy follows protagonist Dae-su Oh during and after his capture / imprisonment for 15 long years. One day he’s finally released, but discovers he only has five days to find the person who kidnapped him and learn why they did it. After being released, Dae-su soon embarks on a quest for vengeance resulting in some of the best scenes I’ve ever seen. Oldboy certainly doesn’t shy away from violence, and in classic revenge-style, simply talking calmly never cuts it. The fight scenes in this film are fast paced and stunning, keeping you glued to the screen at all times.

Choi Min-sik is amazing in the central role, playing an anguished man seeking revenge perfectly. Throughout the film you can really sense the pain in his eyes, and I recently discovered that he did most of his own stunts which makes my love for those scenes even stronger. His dedication to the role is incredible, and one of my favourite things about Oldboy.  Min-sik takes us on an emotional rollercoaster, where we experience things from his point of view and how he’s coping with his current situation. Upon his release, he meets and falls in love with a sushi chef so his anger and frustration becomes blended in with feelings of desire and passion.

The big reveal at the end of the film completely shocked me, and I didn’t see it coming at all. It’s an incredibly twisted ending that stunned me into silence for a good few minutes. I don’t want to give anything away, but thought it was important to flag how much it stuck with me. It ties everything up, yet still leaves it open to interpretation which film fans and critics frequently debate. I myself am unsure what I think, but maybe I’ll settle on a conclusion soon. Overall, Oldboy is a twisted tale of loss and revenge, and the bleak cinematography and gritty scenes certainly reinforce that statement.

I’m really looking forward to watching more South Korean films, so if you have any suggestions please comment below or hit me up on Twitter. I’ve heard that a lot of their films centre around vengeance and revenge so I’m very excited for that. Bonus points if you can recommend any horror films too!

2 thoughts on “South Korean Cinema: My thoughts on “Oldboy”

  1. Welcome to the world of Korean cinema! 🙂

    You’ve started with a real heavy hitter there, so I hope you don’t find your next Korean films disappointing in comparison! 😉

    “Oldboy” is part of Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance trilogy”, with “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance” and “Lady Vengeance” being the first and third films. Also check out his unique take on vampires with “Thirst” and his military drama “JSA”.

    Similarly violent films you should see include “The Chaser”, “A Bittersweet Life”, “City Of Violence”, “I Saw The Devil”, “The Man From Nowhere”, “The Villainess”, “Princess Aurora”. For horror, try “Train To Busan”, “The Wailing”, “A Tale Of Two Sisters”, “Bedevilled”, “Hansel & Gretel” and “Death Bell”.

    You shouldn’t limit yourself to the vengeance/horror genre as they do awesome action thrillers and historical dramas too, like “The Handmaiden”, “Memories Of Murder”, “The Host”, “The Age Of Shadows”, “The Battleship Island”, “The Good, The Bad & The Weird”, “Shiri”, “Save The Green Planet”, “Mother”, “The New World”.

    Their arthouse/drama stuff is also good, from Kim Ki-Duk’s oeuvre (“Moebius”, Pieta”, “Samaritan Girl”, “The Bow”, “3-Iron”) to top notch social drama like “A Girl At My Door”, “Poetry”, “Breathless, “Oasis”, “Han Gon-Ju”, “Friend”, and “Bleak Night”.

    I’ve watched plenty of Korean films so feel free to visit my site for reviews and recommendations! 😉


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