'Oldboy' gets old really fast

April 22, 2005|By Michael Sragow | By Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Seoul City becomes Sin City in Park Chanwook's Oldboy, a tale of two paybacks.

The movie's hero, a middleclass office-worker, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), gets locked up in a cushy isolation cell for 15 years, then devotes himself to finding his persecutor, who has revenge issues of his own.

Despite its director's skill at staging trash with dash, Oldboy is too long and portentous to be an enjoyable B movie. The movie's self-seriousness short-circuits its sensationalism.

Between torture and self-mutilation, and sadistic fights, Oldboy wallows in Daesu's anguish over the pettiness of his victories and the growing awfulness of his humiliation.

Even its stabs at gutter comedy tend to flare up and then f lare out. Dae-su's cellbound self-training regimen serves him well when he defeats an entire gang of thugs (it's the most enjoyable scene), but not when he embraces his unexpected helpmate, a sushi chef named Mido (Gang Hye-yung), as she gets comfy on a toilet.

Oldboy has been hailed as action poetry, but when did "inyour- face" become synonymous with "sublime" or self-pity with profundity? Two characters violate sexual taboos. But the director doesn't wring as much emotion from those revelations as he does from the sight of Dae-su collapsed over his plate after eating a writhing octopus live, with one tentacle squiggling from his mouth. If this director staged Oedipus, it would lack punch until the blinding.

Oldboy

Starring Choi Min-sik

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Released by Tartan

Rated R

Time 120 minutes

Sun Score **

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