Reflection on Park Chan-wook’s ‘Oldboy’ (2003)

I first saw Oldboy during my early teenage years. At the time it was my introduction to a different brand of Asian cinema that was neither highly stylized gangster epics nor Wire-fu martial arts showcase. It was more brutal, erotic, and emotionally volatile than anything I had seen up to that point. Seeing Oldboy again for what is possibly the fifth time now in my mid-20s, it’s left just as much impression, though it also feels more tragic than sad, perverted than sexy, and agonizing than violent.

Park Chan-wook’s tradition of crafting scenes that are discomfitingly violent and guiltily hilarious at the same time first came under the critics’ radar with his fourth feature Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), but it was his fifth feature Oldboy that brought it to the mainstream. By the end of the film, it makes us realize that pain and anguish can be both beautiful and inspiring, and that mainstream cinema can still offer us more than we hope for.

Yusgunawan Marto

Jakarta Cinema Club