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Oldboy Reviews

Korean director Park Chan-wook's controversial Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner is a revenge fable wrapped in a strange romance and embedded in a mystery. Brutal, bizarre and utterly absorbing, it begins as pudgy, obnoxious every-loser Oh Daesu (Choi Min-sik) makes an ass of himself in a police-station holding area. Detained for public drunkenness on his daughter's birthday, the feathery costume wings he bought as a last-minute gift still in their paper bag, he's eventually bailed out by a friend. But as the friend makes a phone call, Daesu simply vanishes from the busy, rain-soaked Seoul street. He wakes up in a seedy, windowless hotel room with a steel door, held by unseen captors who refuse to tell him where he is, why he's there or when — if ever — he'll be allowed to leave. His only diversions are his daily meals of fried dumplings and television, from which he learns that his wife has been murdered and he's the chief suspect. His mind clouded by forcibly administered drugs and solitude, Daesu tries to kill himself but is cruelly revived. He gradually adapts to his Kafkaesque predicament, scribbling in notebooks and transforming himself into a lean, scruffy bruiser with the wherewithal to begin plotting his escape. And then, as suddenly as he was locked up, Daesu is released. He wakes up in a suitcase on a grassy high-rise rooftop, 15 years after he was incarcerated, burning with the desire to find his daughter and exact revenge on the person or persons who imprisoned him. He makes his way to a restaurant and orders "something alive," faints while swallowing a squirming octopus (the sequence that separates fans from detractors) and wakes up in the shabby apartment of pretty, alienated sushi chef Mido (Gang Hye-jung), who falls in with his bleak quest. But Daesu's tormentor is still toying with him, challenging him to figure out in five days what he did to deserve his extravagant punishment. If he fails, his nemesis will kill every woman Daesu cares about. Like Park's earlier SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002), Daesu's odyssey is structured as an escalating series of outrages, preposterous contrivances both tightly plotted and utterly logical within the feverish, ruthless world Park evokes. This is absolutely not a film for all tastes, but it's a masterpiece of pitiless power whose audacious, ambiguous climax strikes a note of insane romanticism as haunting as it is perverse.