Oldboy, finally a great comic book adaptation?

I love everything about movies except taking time to watch them. I know this is problematic as movies reflect our culture. I'm interested in cultural conversations so I'm trying to address this problem.

I am working a new shift at work that leaved me with two days at home during the week. I've decided that I am going to try to watch a new movie every weeek. I have a lot of them on my Netflix instant queue so even if I don't feel like watching one it can be on in the background while I'm playing Maple Story.

Seven Samurai is on Hulu Plus but I didn't want to bring the PS3 into the living room and the subtitles make it difficult to focus on something else while watching it. I decided to go ahead and finally watch Oldboy. I'd heard great reviews of Oldboy when it was released in the states around 2003/2004. And the reviews are right; the movie is really well done.

For those of you haven't seen it Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man held captive in a room for 15 years for reasons he does not know. He wakes up one morning free and spends the remainder of the movie trying to find out who did this to him and why. My friend Nathan described it as the best revenge movie ever. I would have to agree; there's nothing quite like it.

My favorite scenes (in brief with spoilers)

The fight Oh Dae-Su has in the hotel hallway after torturing his warden: this isn't a slick martial arts treatment, it is a desperate man with a hammer fighting his way through a hallway of thugs.

There is a flashback scene where Oh Dae-Su remembers meeting the young girl, Soo-ah, and witnessing her sexual relationship with a young man he would only much later learn was her brother. The cuts between past and present were incredibly effective.

The final confrontation between Oh Dae-Su and his captor. There is some fighting but it is secondary to the conversation where we actually learn why Oh Dae-Su was held captive for 15 years. Why is that length of time significant?

There are several gotchas in this movie but the biggest one came when I learned that Oldboy was based on a comic book. Like most movie gotchas if you pay special attention throughout the movie it becomes obvious:

  • The incest plot

  • The extreme amount of physical abuse an average person can survive

  • Oh Dae-Su is told if he doesn't figure it out why he was inprisoned they will kill him in 5 days.

  • If Oh Dae-Su does figure out why he was imprisoned his captor will kill himself,

  • His captor has a killswitch in his pacemaker that his doctor added at his request.

This sort of ridiculousness is pretty common in manga and would normally jump out at me. It is a testament of great filmmaking that I didn't notice them sooner.