A plot twist can make or break a movie. It can elevate the plot to new heights, dazzling you with how it is set up and how unexpected (or pleasantly expected but still shocking) it is. It can also make you wonder what the screenwriter was thinking, as it will make no sense in the grand scheme of things. The former of which describes a film containing what is possibly the greatest plot twist of all time, and my seventh favourite movie: Oldboy
Oldboy is a thriller that stands above the rest. An intricately written plot where the seed of what is to come is sewn into it from the start, and a plot that is beautifully brought to life by director Park Chan Wook. There will be spoilers as I discuss the plot and characters, because it is an important aspect of this movie, but I will also be discussing the technical aspects as well, such as cinematography, editing, and fight choreography. You have been warned of spoilers. Let’s go.
Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-Su. After a drunken night on the town, which also happens to be his daughter’s birthday, Dae-Su is kidnapped and held captive for 15 years of his life, served nothing but fried dumplings, and drugged daily. One day, before he is able to break out, he is released from captivity. After being handed a wallet and cell phone by a stranger, he walks into a restaurant, where he meets the head chef named Mi-Do. There, he is called by the man who held him captive and he faints at the touch of Mi-Do. After being taken in by the chef, he swears revenge, and goes to track down whoever did it. Dae Su fights and sleuths his way to the horrible truth and is forever changed.
But what makes this movie is the final twist. When Oh Dae Su finally tracks down who held him captive, he finds out that the man that held him captive was an old high school classmate. Oh Dae Su witnessed this man engaging in sexual intercourse with his sister, and proceeded to spread the info around. After being slut shamed, the sister commits suicide. As this classmate’s revenge, he makes Dae Su commit the same crime he did. Mi-Do was, this whole time, Dae Su’s daughter, and Dae Su had fallen in love and had sex with her. After desperately pleading with his classmate not to tell Mi-Do what happened (slicing his tounge out in the process), Dae Su is left a broken man. His classmate leaves him, but proceeds to kill himself due to his involvement in his sister’s death. Dae Su then goes into isolation in the frozen wilderness, and gets hypnotized into forgetting the events of the movie.
Oldboy is a tour de force of writing. Dae Su, a drunken businessman and a failure as a father, is taken captive and transformed into this jaded, vengeful machine on a mission. He learns what the world is like outside, and even begins to love the violence. When he finds out the truth, he becomes a broken man and wants nothing to do with the world. This is an amazing and dynamic character arc that is memorable and creates a top of the line anti-hero. Both him and the villain have clear motivations and it is expertly conveyed, and pop off the screen because of the amazing performances. Further, from the start of the film, the plot twist was set up right from the start and done in a way that didn’t negate the impact, giving you little hints as to what may happen next. What took me aback though, during my viewing, was the sense of humor this movie has. It knew when to make light of Dae Su’s situation, making us laugh at his grim lack of understanding of how to act in the modern world.
But what would a great script like this be without the technical prowess of a great director. Park Chan Wook tells this story using these beautiful and creative visuals. The one shot hallway fight was a marvel of fight choreography and camera work, and the sepia toned high school sequence used amazing close shots and strange angles to make for a great way to convey plot information. The soundtrack in this film is also spectacular. The use of classical music, as well as the amazing original score, creates an intense atmosphere that sets you up for shock and awe.
Overall, Oldboy is a masterpiece of international cinema and one of the best films of the 2000s. A brilliant, unique, and amazingly crafted thriller and a riveting watch from start to finish. It contains the most shocking and exciting plot twist ever, and it still hits hard even on repeat viewings. One of the best directors out of Korea, Park Chan Wook, will go down in history as a master of his craft because of Oldboy and his other great films. This film is a must watch. Unabashedly recommended, and one of my favourite movies.
10 out of 10