This Korean film begins as a comedy and, through the stages of detective, drama and psychological thriller, rises to the level of bloody Shakespearean tragedies such as Titus Andronicus. He has received numerous prestigious awards and received rave reviews from critics and ordinary audiences. Someone is delighted with fierce fights or wiggling octopus tentacles sticking out of the protagonist’s mouth; someone – an ominous and mysterious enemy, who kept the unfortunate Oldboy in dungeons for many years. But all are united in one thing: feelings after watching the film cannot be conveyed in other words than “shock”. And it’s not about fountains of blood or eaten shellfish – it’s just that the power of revenge and love, which gave birth to this revenge, does not let go, like a vicious nightmare.
Who is Oldboy?
The word “Oldboy” is translated from English as “old man”, “friend”, and as “old student of the school.” For the protagonist, both translations are correct. He really is “our good old guy”, causing a smile and sympathy. But in order to understand the cause of the misfortunes that befell him, Oldboy will have to go back in time to his school years.
His name is O De Su, that is, “living one day.” This is how he appears to us at the beginning of the film – a funny, sweet, irresponsible fool. The first footage is a chronicle from the police station: the voices of the police off-screen persuade him to calm down, and he kicks, tries to urinate in a corner, teases the law enforcement officers. Our “old man” got drunk on his daughter’s birthday, but did not forget to buy her a present – funny toy angel wings. What else to do with such a cutie? Only “understand and forgive.” But, barely leaving the walls of the site, our “old man” falls into a nightmare that will drag on for 14 years.
Revenge as it is
The theme of revenge involuntarily brings our memory back to the “Count of Monte Cristo”. Like the unfortunate Edmond Dantes, Oldboy ended up in prison for guilt that he did not know and did not understand. Like the hero of Dumas, he moved from dull despair and rebellion to an analysis of his life, an attempt to escape and self-education, only the role of the omniscient Abbot Faria was played for him by the TV. As for the Count of Monte Cristo, the main thing in Oldboy’s life was revenge on the man who put him in dungeons. But this is where the similarities end.
Oldboy is an avenger and a victim of revenge at the same time. His life is broken. An unknown powerful enemy took away his freedom, killed his wife, blaming O Dae Soo all the blame, and now he is safer in this prison than in the wild, where he will be immediately captured and put in an even worse cell. He does not know what became of his daughter, and most importantly, he does not know who and for what subjected him to such a terrible punishment. Breaking free, he dreams of revenge, but dreams turn against him.
Oldboy’s enemy, Lee Woo Jin, is not terrible because he is rich and omnipotent. He is a different face of the same Count of Monte Cristo, with his painful desire for revenge and sacrificing his whole life to this passion. His youthful appearance seems unnatural, but this has a special psychological meaning: Wu Jin’s life has stopped, he does not live, does not age. He died sometime in his youth, at the terrible moment of his sister’s death, and since then, having subjugated all thoughts of revenge, abandoned his own life. The words about revenge as a dish served cold are not justified in Oldboy. After many years, the feelings of the heroes are still heightened and hot, and the actions are far from reason.
Crime and Punishment
The first psychological layer of the film is that revenge is sterile and psychoactive. The second concerns the adequacy of the crime and punishment, and what happens to a person when he takes on the functions of a judge, investigator and executioner at the same time. What, strictly speaking, is Oh Dae Soo guilty of? “In that he talked a lot,” his executioner replies. Accidentally, in passing, simply from the fact that the young boy could not keep his mouth shut, he ruined someone’s life. I destroyed it without knowing it myself. But even worse, he forgot. I completely forgot the protagonists of the story, which I got involved in by accident.
Any of our actions can have devastating consequences. Any word we say can cause the most dramatic changes in people’s lives, about which we really do not know anything. As a “domino” effect – just touch one knuckle, and a rapid movement will begin. Like circles from a stone casually thrown into the water. But in the case of Oh De Su, who threw a small pebble into someone else’s pond, a light swell in the water turned into a tsunami.
Presumption of guilt
Is Dae Soo Guilty? If the court is obliged to approach the accused from the standpoint of the presumption of innocence, then he already considers himself guilty. Sitting in prison, Oldboy makes lists of people who could offend, and who could harbor anger at him. The list is quite impressive. Is our “old man” so nice and good as it seemed to us at the beginning?
How much of this is Wu Jin’s fault? At the heart of what happened are his sins: he was engaged in love games with his own sister, he did not hold her at the moment of falling from the dam. It would seem that he dreams of dumping his blame on the talkative Oh De Su, who divulged a shameful secret between him and his sister. For 14 years he has been patiently waiting for his name to appear on Oldboy’s lists; without waiting, releases him and continues to play with him, like a cat with a mouse. After taking revenge and enjoying it, Wu Jin executes himself, leaving Dae Soo to live in full consciousness of his guilt. He had achieved what he wanted, and now he had given himself the final judgment. Whether because he has lost the further meaning of life, or because he wants to bear his share of responsibility – it remains for the viewer to judge.
Oldboy 2003 vs Oldboy 2013
10 years after Oldboy’s triumph in Hollywood, a remake was filmed , which failed at the box office. A number of significant discrepancies in the scripts led to discrepancies in the psychological sense of the films. The hero of the Hollywood version, the advertiser Joe Dusse, does not evoke any sympathy from the first shots, as does his antagonist.
The psychological overtones of the American film are flat and exaggerated; Spike Lee directed the usual thriller and changed the ending. In the American version, Oldboy voluntarily returns to prison, financially providing for the future of his daughter. The Korean version is good because the heroes care least about the material side; send Oh Dae Soo Mi Do’s diamonds, she would throw them in the trash like trash.
The meaning of the ending of the film
The terrible truth revealed to Oh De Soo did not break him, as it seems at first glance. He goes to the extreme degree of humiliation, just to keep her a secret from his daughter. He finds the only way out – to turn to the female hypnotist who worked for Wu Jin to make him forget what he learned from his tormentor and try to move on.
Dae Soo, in spite of everything, does not try to commit suicide, he tries to preserve the remaining grains of dignity. After all, in essence, he is not a murderer or a sadist.
Seconds of happy misunderstanding and a blissful smile on Oldboy’s face give way to a grimace. One gets the impression that this time the mighty power of hypnosis did not work on him. Perhaps because there are things that cannot be forgotten for anything and never. Or maybe because now Dae Soo is physically rejecting oblivion, which has cost him too much.