So, at last year's Cannes, Fahrenheit 9/11 took the Palme d'Or - a political statement by the judges. I don't have anything against the film but I think people should acknowledge that while it was good, it was not exactly awarded the highest honor at the festival on merit. The film that "should" have won was Chan-wook Park's "Oldboy," and indeed it did win a more modest honor, the Jury prize, a sort of "People's Choice," as I see it. In any case, "Oldboy" is soon to enjoy a worldwide release, and as I could not wait until then to see the film (it was actually released in South Korea in 2003), I managed to watch an imported region 0 DVD.
Chan-wook Park decided a few years ago to make a trilogy. The movies would not be related but would have a similar theme - revenge. The first movie was "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance"- the title suggests a more whimsical film than you will be seeing. The third is "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance," which is slated for release soon. "Oldboy" was the second, and the first that I saw. I will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum but if you're pumped about this movie, better move on. It concerns a man, Daesu, who in the first few minutes of the film disappears without a trace, to be incarcerated for 15 years in a strange room, with no reason given and no contact with the outside world. One day he is released without a word, and begins to search for his persecutor.
I won't put any more of the plot down because I'd like for people to experience it for themselves. The movie is very well-written, and takes some brainwork to piece together - not on the order of Mulholland Drive or anything but it doesn't exactly spell it out for you. One should also be aware that this movie doesn't hold back. There is extremely intense and graphic violence and sex, and a lot of taboos broken that you hardly even see referred to in Hollywood. That's part of what makes it great - it's telling a story with no regard for tact or what will sell.
The visual style is very well done as well. There is a little of everything, and all of it is handled with the same flair and technical prowess. There is a fight scene that is done all in one shot that must have been nearly impossible to pull off, similar to the famous scene in Hard Boiled - two minutes of constant shooting. There are a few digital effects but most are meant not to be seen - this isn't science fiction, nor fantasy - its an urban crime drama of sorts, and there is no need for a CG sidekick. For example, one shot is framed with one character looking into a mirror, another farther away behind him, reflected in the mirror. It's well composed and its only if you think about it that you realize that at that angle the camera should be in the picture. So in this case a special effect was used only to make an shot the director wanted possible, and it's totally transparent (so to speak).
The movie is long, complicated, and rather brutal, and I'm not sure how well it will go over here in the states. I have a feeling critics will laud it but warn off weak-stomached potential moviegoers. I won't say it's a shame, though, since really this kind of balls-out moviemaking isn't for everyone. It's a bold, original story told in an extremely skillful way, much like "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," and not everybody is into that. For those people who can handle it, though, it is a very rewarding movie experience. Don't watch it with your mom.