Oldboy is a famous South Korean thriller drama, directed by Chan-wook Park, based on a manga written by Minegishi Nobuaki and Tsuchiya Garon. This is the second installment of Park’s Trilogy on revenge. The plot revolves around a man who spent 15 years in captivity without even knowing the reason, so revenge is a major motif of this film, and primary motivation of both the protagonist and his captors.
Dae-su Oh (played by Choi Min-sik) was a businessman living comfortably in Seoul with his wife and daughter. One night, he’s abducted by unknown people and placed in an unfamiliar prison-like room without anyone explaining to him who captured him and why. The room was neatly furnished, had a TV and furniture, and he was given good food. Each time he tried to commit suicide, a dormant gas was released into the room, which prevents him from doing so.
He hears on television that his wife had been killed, his daughter sent to adoptive parents, and that he is the prime suspect. Years go by and he starts practicing and slowly digging a hole in the wall. But after 15 years, as mysteriously as he was abducted, he is again released and left on the roof of a building.
After his sudden and unexplained release, he is determined to seek revenge on the person who had imprisoned him. Dae-su falls in love with young Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung) and they spend a couple of passionate nights together. He gets a call from Lee Woo-jin (played by Yoo Ji-tae) who informs him that he had been the one who held him captive,and offers him a bet; if in five days Dea-su finds out why he was captured, Woo will voluntarily commit suicide, and if he fails, Mi-do will die.
Dae-su discovers that Woo-jin went to the same high school with him. Then he remembers that he once spied on Woo-jin and saw that he had been having a love affair with his own sister Soo-ah. Dae-su told that to a friend before moving to another school, and as the rumors spread throughout the school, driven by shame, Soo-ah committed suicide. These two men, consumed by their need for revenge, finally meet to confront each other. Woo-jin then reveals his cruel, twisted, but worst of all successful plan, to the horrified Dae-su.
The film became extremely famous outside its home country and drew attention to South Korean cinema. The reviews have generally been favorable, though some critics complained that it was too brutal and relied on shock factor a bit too much. Others called it a poignant drama without compromise. The film was heavily inspired by the myth of Oedipus and Greek tragedy in general, which was more obvious to the native viewers. Park Chan-wook even stated that he named the main character Oh Dae-su “to remind the viewer of Oedipus.”
Brutal in its depictions of emotions, violence and taboos, it is memorable even to those who disliked it. Far from saying that only those who misunderstood it didn’t like it, but also far from saying that it was just a derivative revenge porn with no substance.