Sunday, 13 December 2009

Disaster Year 2003: Oldboy

An oafish salaryman is abducted and imprisoned in a facsimile living space. His indifferent captors offer no explanation, or sentence. For the next fifteen years Oh Dae-su's light is bulb sourced, food a perpetual fried take away, and his sleep cycle maintained with Valium gas. Suicide attempts are swiftly thwarted; all he can do is box the walls and think on what dreadful thing landed him there. Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi's manga, from which this is adapted, posits the confinement as a necessary step to realising a new hyper-masculine identity.

On page, Oh Dae-su becomes a stoic mensch in the Golgo 13 mold; a brawn totem who beds and broods. Park Chan-wook's film retains the muscle memory training, but allows his lead to unravel. The incarceration dismantles Oh Dae-su, stripping him back to something venal. Aggravated repetition has reconstructed him as a prowling beast, possessed of considerable violence. This dominant, animalistic persona proves useful when thugging his way closer to the parties who stole his life, but can it readapt to less base drives? Choi Min-sik's Oh Dae-su is a queasy centre in Oldboy. His revenge is characterised not by equaliser triumph, but rather an instinctive necessity. A reason is the only thing that can make sense of the existential demolition perpetrated on him. It's the only real drive he has left. Complicating this further is a constant prickling fear that he actually deserves what happened to him.

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