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OLDBOY (2003) Introduction at the Vancity Theatre

Written by Christopher Beaubien • September 27, 2022 • Start the Discussion!

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On the evening of September 17th, I volunteered to introduce the Vancity Theatre’s screening of Park Chan-wook’s cult classic “Oldboy” (2003). This is what I had to say about it.


Good evening. My name is Christopher Beaubien and I am honoured to be here.

Very soon your heart will be pounding in your chest. Your stomach will sink into its knees. And we’ll all be grinning ear-to-ear watching “Oldboy” in all of its 4K glory.

How many of you are seeing this movie for the first time?

Back in 2005, a horror movie buff loaned me a VHS copy of “Basket Case” and then he challenged me to show him a really scary movie. I hate to disappoint and I knew just the movie to show him. Once I had the movie set up to show my new friend as well as 30 other people (Don’t ask), he asked me — he was so excited:

“Chris, is this movie really scary?”

I assured him it was.

Then the air turned to chill and his face betrayed apprehension.

He asked me again, “Chris, is this movie really scary?”

I told him it was.

ThreeExtremes_Poster_225The movie in question is “Three… Extremes.” It is an anthology of three short horror movies made by Asian filmmakers. They were a part of the Asia Extreme, a provocative cult cinema movement that breaks taboos and pushes genre films into extremes with their violence and eroticism.

These uncompromising filmmakers from all over Asia mean business. Their horror movies are pure nightmare fuel. They shine a blacklight on everything we hold dear and expose the cancerous rot festering in the human soul.

God bless them.

One of the filmmakers featured in “Three Extremes” is none other than Japan’s Takashi Mikii whose 1999 feature film “Audition” is a body horror classic that took the Asia Extreme around the world by storm.

Dumplings_PosterAnother filmmaker named Fruit Chan based in Hong Kong made a short called “Dumplings.” It is my personal favourite of the three. Utterly transgressive and frightening, it is about an aging actress who procures dumplings with the power to renew her youth and beauty.

“Three Extremes” is currently available for free on tubitv and I dare you to watch it if only to find out what the special ingredient is in those magical dumplings.

Sandwiched between these two is a short called “Cut” written and directed by the man of the next two hours, Park Chan-wook from South Korea. What’s interesting about “Oldboy” and “Cut” is that they were made back-to-back in a short time of each other and they share the same premise of a weak man with much to lose being kidnapped and tortured by a diabolical madman. They even feature the same leading actress, Kang Hye-Jung.

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As a student of philosophy, Park Chan-wook is fascinated by deep and troubling moral questions about human nature and our need for vengeance and inflicting cruelty on others. In his short film “Cut,” the kidnapper believes his wretched circumstances in life — being poor, abused, ugly and never getting a break — led to his fate of becoming a depraved criminal. He argues the man he has kidnapped, a filmmaker, is a good man only because life was easy for him. The other man is rich, well-educated, successful and happily married. He has no reason to sin. But the kidnapper wants to test the other man’s goodness by coercing him to kill a child or else watch helplessly as his wife is chopped up into pieces.

The anti-hero in “Oldboy,” Oh Dae-Su, played brilliantly by Choi Min-Sik, is a family man who has hit rock bottom before he is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years without human contact. Oh Dae-Su is broken down into an insane, primal beast hellbent on revenge. When Oh Dae-Su finally confronts the spider who has cocooned him in its web, do not be surprised if you yourselves are face-to-face with one of the great villains in cinematic history. A brilliant villain who can hold his own with the serial killer in David Fincher’s “Seven” who can also be described as “Methodical, exacting, and worst of all, patient.”

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“Oldboy” won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and put Park Chan-wook and the South Korean film industry up on the world stage. It is one of the very best films of this new century. The film has inspired a Bollywood production and an American remake directed by none other than Spike Lee. This movie resonates so much with people that fans of the film have asked Park Chan-wook to sign his name on their hammers.

“Oldboy” is much more than a very alarming horror-thriller. It is many things:

  • A morbid comedy of reckless machoism up against evil genius.
  • A Grimm fairy tale for the 21st century.
  • A tale of madness, obsession and revenge.
  • A dream-like labyrinthine murder mystery worthy of Hitchcock.
  • A bone-crunching action picture.
  • A love story for the ages.
  • A tragedy that takes no prisoners.
  • A comic-book movie for intelligent adults.

It just so happens that Park Chan-wook was introduced to the manga “Oldboy” by his friend Bong Joon-ho who is another Korean filmmaker you may have heard of.

And finally, “Oldboy” is a movie for people who want to eat something that’s alive.

Before I go, I would like to resurrect the Grand Poobah himself. That’s right. I’m talking about the great film critic Roger Ebert who in his four out of four star review of “Oldboy” wrote,

“In its sexuality and violence, this is the kind of movie that can no longer easily be made in the United States; the standards of a puritanical minority, imposed on broadcasting and threatened even for cable, make studios unwilling to produce films that might face uncertain distribution. But content does not make a movie good or bad – it is merely what it is about. “Oldboy” is a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare.”

It is not what a movie is about, but how it is about it. This is what separates the great filmmakers from the rest. Park Chan-wook shows us how that is done.

Enjoy the film.

Park Chan-Wook at his London film festival Screen Talk

Park Chan-wook | BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture Series

Park Chan-Wook: A conversation with the audience about OLDBOY

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