There was an image in the trailer for Korean import Old Boy that determined I would one day see it: an unkempt, craggy-faced man walks away from a building while, in the background, a man holding a tiny white dog falls from above to land on the top of a car. As he walks towards us and the car alarm goes off, the first man favors us with a small, evil grin.
It took me awhile, but see it I did, and I must say that while as a whole the plot is entirely too convoluted to hold up to any kind of believability, the film is impressive enough for me to ignore that. The set up is this: Oh Dae-Su is a drunk. One night he is snatched from under his friend’s wandering gaze and is subjected to 15 years of imprisonment in a hotel room. After this time, he is set free on the roof, and given 5 days to determine who did this, why, and what he’s going to do about it. What ensues is a revenge tragedy whose solution cannot possibly be as good as its premise, but the premise is so bizarre, and the ways in which the unseen antagonist directs the action so unflinchingly repulsive, that I can’t help but respect the film. The main character, as well, fulfills the promise I detected in that little smile; he is as committed an actor as I’ve ever seen. And this movie took that commitment very seriously.
I can’t talk much about it without giving too much away; the film relies on you being as in the dark as Dae-Su. I will say that the plot took the characters places an American film would have run screaming from, and did it with style. There is violence, and it is graphic, but it’s also completely appropriate for the story. My interest waned as more was revealed, but as I said earlier I’m not sure how any film could live up to that opening. Once all shred of credibility vanished (note to self: if seeking revenge, just kill the dude—20 years is way too long to wait), however, I was kept involved by the sheer ballsiness of the movie. Might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for daring cinema you can do a lot worse.