Oldboy review a beautifully blood-spattered modern classic

Limbs, teeth and live octopuses all come in for unblinkingly brutal treatment in Park Chan-wooks stunning revenge epic

Sixteen years ago, Park Chan-wook gave us this gobsmackingly horrible but demonically inspired thriller, based on the Japanese manga by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya, which came to epitomise the Asia extreme genre: a new frontier of extravagantly violent craziness. Since then, Park has advanced creatively by retreating into more conventional forms, most prominently with his masterly The Handmaiden. Nonetheless, Oldboy now on re-release remains a classic of the macabre that revived the spirit of Jacobean theatre for 21st-century cinema, and the centrepiece of Parks revenge trilogy, alongside Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002) and Lady Vengeance (2005).


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The film has consolidated its cult status, more or less undamaged by Spike Lees baffling English-language version in 2013, starring Josh Brolin. Choi Min-sik plays Dae-su, a boorish, drunken guy who one night discovers that he has an enemy who is about to take a terrible revenge for something Dae-su cant remember and for which he too will take vengeance in his turn. The torture visited on Dae-su is imprisonment, for a very long period of time. When he finally gets out, he is not the catatonically reduced ghost of a man we might expect: he is fired up and has evolved into a revenge machine, capable of anything (including eating a live octopus for the sheer hell of it, one of the great black-comic moments of Korean cinema). A walk on the wildest of wild sides.

  • Oldboy is released in the UK on 2 August

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