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Oldboy

Year: 2003
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Min sik Choi, Hye jeon Kang
Korea has been a quiet and relatively slow entrant into the burgeoning market of Asian cinema that's swept the western world on the back of anime and martial arts movies, and Chan-wook Park is one of the pioneers leading the Korean charge (and our own Sejong Park, director of Birthday Boy, which made a splash at this year's Oscars, isn't far behind).

And with Old Boy, he brings us a fractured fable with a Tarantino-like plotline that jumps back and forth at the most unexpected moments to unravel the story as far as it wants you to understand.

The mood of the poster and newspaper ads - if you've seen them, make you think it's going to be something like an early John Woo/Chow Yun Fat or Beat Takeshi film about a dark and broody hero with incredibly graphic bouts of bloodshed.

It's not one of those films at all, but it is a distant cousin. There is some violence of the sort that only belongs in movies, but when you get to the bottom of things, it's a romantic drama - it's just populated with the sort of people you expect to see in a blood-splattered Hong Kong action orgy.

We meet Oh Dae Su as an apparently washed up office worker causing trouble in a police station after being bought in for drunkenness. He abuses visitors, attacks arresting officers and generally makes things worse for himself until his friend comes to collect him. The only connection with the rest of the movie is the pair of feathered fairy wings he's bought for his daughter, so keep them in mind.

But Dae Su presumably never gets home, and we next meet him in what appears to be a prison cell/hotel room where he's imprisoned, fed, watered and drugged without explanation - for 15 years. After sharing a short back catalogue of his psychoses from living in the same room and eating the same fried dumplings for 15 years, he's released and faced with his challenge; find out why he's been locked up for fifteen years or die in five days.

Dae Su, shaggy haired, more than slightly mad and packing heat, goes method. To find his captors, he eats as much dumplings as he can find so he can pinpoint the correct restaurant and then follow the delivery man to the place he was locked up, and he does it until we find him spewing in a back alley.

He hooks up with a young Japanese food chef who takes him in, becomes his lover and unwittingly gets caught up in his race against time until the devastating climax.

That the climax is devastating when the reason behind the story is revealed has more to do with the premise than anything else; the action itself goes on far too long and much more impact would have been made just leaving everything be at the crucial moment, but Park wants to give his characters more elbow room to bounce off each other and the result ends up unsatisfying and with some of the edge the story has spent so long building up taken off.

Some scenes are very artfully set up, some profoundly disgusting (a word of warning; there is obviously no regulation against harm coming to animals on Korean movie sets, but if you hate octopi you won't mind). The proceedings occasionally descend into the ridiculous, and Park hasn't kept a very tight rein on either the actors of the story leaving reality to an extent.

But it's a dark and disturbing tale from beginning to end, and if foreign movies with a sense of the sublime and a very muddy line between the hero and villain is your cup of tea, you'll be drawn in the spell of Oh Dae Su's maniacal eyes throughout.

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