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The Vault: Oldboy (2003)

Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) has been held prisoner for fifteen years. He knows nothing of why he is there, or for how much longer his imprisonment will continue. He marks his time with scratches on the walls. At the beginning of the film Dae-su makes a fool of himself. Soused to the gills with booze and absent from his daughter's birthday party. This is not the man we meet after his surprise release. His fists are hardened from punching walls every day. He has lost the pouch of fat his stomach grew accustomed to. He is hateful. His confinement has honed him into a killer.

Mido (Gang Hye-Jung) is a chef Dae-su recognizes from the television that was his life in prison. She watches him eat raw squid as if he had a vendetta against the poor creature. Mido senses a great pain in him and offers her residence as a place to care for him. They take comfort in each other and she aids him in his search for truth.

A shadowy third figure draws into the fold and tells Dae-su that he is merely a pawn in a much larger game. The game itself seems simple: figure out why he was imprisoned within five days and his kidnapper will kill himself, if not, Mido will die.

The improbability of what is revealed later is such a shock to the system that one is quite reasonable in their impulse to shut off the film. Revenge is a messy and often horrifying pursuit. It seldom reaches an end and destroys everything. However, when your film takes Greek tragedies like Oedipus and Thyestes and makes them look like child's play, you may claim the position as King of sadomasochism.

Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood illuminated relationships and how they temper the baser urges that pit humans against one another. It seems Oldboy suggests that relationships are only for inflicting further punishment on each other. Such extremes in violence and sexuality are rarely played out anymore and Chan-wook Park is one of the few directors that revel in this heightened land of excess.

Park is quite adept at the stylings of dialogue and action, but there are times when he needed to learn when to control that impulse as well. The problem with Oldboy is that when you make a B-movie with A-money, you need to be self-aware of the camp that comes along with it.

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