Conventional knowledge holds that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Why this is true is never fully explained, and I’m not sure if I agree with the thought. What’s the rational? Is revenge best cold due to the fact that the perpetrator of said revenge has ample opportunity to obsess over the harm done to them, while slowly nursing their wounds? Is it the idea that if you delay vengeance, the pain slowly becomes a part of you making it that much more cathartic when you do finally manage to serve your dish – so to speak.
These explanations seem to come up short for me. For instance, if you spend your life raising the idea of exacting revenge, what do you do when you finally achieve your goal? Who do you become after everything is accomplished? What is Inigo Montoya’s purpose in life after he screams “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!” one last time before vanquishing the six fingered man?
These are the types of questions that keep me up. I would feel worried asking myself this, except for the fact that everything I have asked has been explored in unparalleled strokes of cold artisitic genius by Park Chan-wook in his masterpiece of a film, Oldboy. The film follows the exploits of Oh Dae-Su, a man imprisoned for fifteen years without explanation and then suddenly released, and his quest for understanding and revenge.
Trying to write an accurate Oldboy review without ruining any of the suspense or turns the movie takes is a difficult task. It is surely a movie about revenge, as is evident from the fact that the movie is the second installment in the thematically linked Vengeance Trilogy; however, whose revenge we are watching unfurl, and why anything happens the way it does, is not always completely apparent. In keeping with this ambiguity, the film is extremely graphic.
Usually I am able to watch films without flinching – not so for Oldboy. There were several times throughout the film – and still, now, after having seen it untold times – in which I will squirm. What separates this movie from common pulp is that none of the violence is gratuitous. Everything you see, although you will earnestly wish it never flashed before your eyes, has value. It demonstrates the extremes people will go to in the effort to correct wrongs they think have been done to them.
Oldboy isn’t simply a gory movie focused around revenge. It is also a deep psychological study of how easy it is for people to lose sight of their own humanity if they are pushed far enough. Throughout the film, without spoiling anything, there is a strong motif of the battle between the inner monster lurking in all people and their desire to suppress it. By the end of this film, you will fully understand that struggle.
There are really no heroes or villains in this movie. By the time the credits roll, the only real emotion one could possible have for any of the character’s is sympathy. They were all so wrapped up in their own destruction, that it became impossible for them to escape.Rating: Extremely worthwhile. Watch it on the first chance you get. Be warned, though, this movie is not for the weak stomached.
Favorite quotation out of context: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”