Tag Archives: Chan-wook Park

Halloween Countdown, Day 15: Oldboy

Oldboy (2003)

So a guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that the guy is a dick. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.

The guy is Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.

This is not a horror film in any traditional sense – not even in South Korean cinema’s extreme sense. Though it was embraced – and rightly so – by horror circles, this is a refreshing and compelling take on the revenge fantasy that drags you places you do not expect to go. But that’s the magnificence of Chan-wook Park, and if you have the stomach, you should follow where he leads.

Released in 2003 and remade (BADLY) ten years later, the film’s secrets have likely been spilled by this point. One of the miraculous things about Oldboy is that, even if you know the twists that lie ahead, you cannot imagine how Park will reveal and execute them.

And if you don’t know, all the better

Choi is unforgettable as the film’s anti-hero, and his disheveled explosion of emotion is perfectly balanced by the elegantly evil Ji-tae Yu.

Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

Counting Down Cinema’s Best Trilogies

The third Hunger Games installment is set to smash box office records this week. It’s part of that rare brotherhood of series where the sequel is stronger than the original, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. We’re eager to see what they can do with #3, which got us to thinking about our favorite trilogies. Today we are counting down the best trilogies in film.

10. Dead Trilogy

George A. Romero may have gone to the well a few too many times, but the first three installments of his Dead series – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead – were groundbreaking achievements that created the pattern for all future zombie films. Packed with social commentary as well as bloody entrails, they are as weirdly compelling today as they were when they were first released.

9. Back to the Future

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd head to the 1950s, back to the Eighties, back to the Fifties, and eventually to the Wild West in a charming, funny, nostalgic time travel fantasy.

8. Evil Dead

Truth be told, the 2013 reboot is a worthy addition to the franchise. But it’s Bruce Campbell and the 1981 goretastic Stoogesque original, its 1987 reboot/sequel, and the epic third installment Army of Darkness that create the three headed monster we love.

7. Godfather Trilogy

Honestly, this is here on the merit of the first two films alone. Though the third installment is not the debacle it is often labeled, it is certainly comparatively weak. But since I and II are among the greatest American films ever made, we’ll let that slide.

6. Dollar Trilogy

Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly stole from Kurosawa, established Clint Eastwood, and changed the landscape of the American Western. Morally complicated and full of violence, Leone’s trilogy is a landmark in cinema – American, Italian or otherwise.

5. Vengeance Trilogy

Korean filmmaking genius/madman Chan-wook Park unleashed three riveting, bizarre tales of vengeance beginning in 2002 with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the unnervingly merciful tale of kidnapping, compassion and revenge. He followed it the next year with his masterpiece, Oldboy, a revenge fable so bizarre it defies simple summarization. He capped the trilogy in 2005 with Lady Vengeance, another twisted and human tale of vengeance and unattainable redemption.

4. Star Wars

If a trilogy ever had as much impact as the first three Star Wars films, we don’t know of it. Yes, there are weaknesses in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (Ewoks, for example), but it’s a galaxy we’d return to regardless of its distance.

3. Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a majestic, gorgeously filmed and beautifully crafted nerdgasm. Scary, heroic and genuinely epic, it’s a fantasy world that offsets the magic with enough authenticity to give the trilogy compelling urgency. Jackson’s vision is magnificent. (But enough already, please?)

2. Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan recast superheroes with his dark, brooding Batman Begins. Provocatively written and fascinatingly cast, the film spun into the superior sequel The Dark Knight, proving that a superhero movie could be among the very best films made in any year. Then he capped it with The Dark Knight Rises and the kind of excitement, revisiting of themes and satisfying closure required of a genuine cinematic trilogy. Nicely done!

1. Toy Story

When Pixar unleashed Toy Story in 1995, the world changed for animation, family entertainment, and movies on the whole. What a glorious achievement – too good for a sequel. And yet John Lasseter revisited Buzz, Woody and gang in ’99 with new buddies and a toy-centric plot that was as riveting as the first film. And then, showing true genius, Lasseter returned to Andy’s house in maybe the most honest and heartbreaking coming of age film ever digitally created. Tell us you didn’t cry during Toy Story 3 and we’ll label you a sociopath.

Mysterious Strangers for Your Queue

If you somehow missed one of Marvel’s very best superhero flicks, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available today. Check it out. But for the rest of you, there’s a little seen movie from Netherlands we’d like to recommend.

Borgman updates a Dutch folktale, pitting a vagrant against a wealthy couple in a trippy, mind bending nightmare. Remarkable cinematography, assured direction and wonderful performances help make this frightening trip truly compelling.

Make it a mysterious stranger double feature by taking in the woefully underseen Stoker. Chan-wook Park’s first English language feature follows a wealthy family rocked by the patriarch’s sudden death, the surprising presence of his brother, and his adolescent daughter’s truly unusual behavior. It’s a fascinating twist on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, marked by subtly eerie performances, gorgeous cinematography and strange turns.

Why Do New?


by Hope Madden

When contemplating Spike Lee’s new film Oldboy, don’t ask yourself why central character Joe Doucett  was set free. It’s pointless to even ask why he was imprisoned in the first place. The real question is: why remake this movie?

Seriously, what was it about the experience of watching Chan-wook Park’s 2003 masterpiece of punishment that made Spike Lee want to make his own version? Did he see things he thought needed improvement? Thought the US audience wouldn’t sit through subtitles? Or more likely, thought we needed a watered down, moralistic version?

The thing about the original Oldboy it that you just can’t unsee that film. There’s no way to watch the reboot without comparing. If you haven’t seen the original, then you still have the fresh perspective on the mystery unraveling, as Joe finds himself strangely incarcerated for 20 years, then even more mysteriously set free.

But if you have seen the original, then you, like me, may have wailed aloud the first time you heard someone planned to make an English language version, certain as you were that they would gut the tale, sterilize it, tidy it up, give it heart.

But then you saw the first couple ads for Lee’s version, and you thought – well, good cast (Josh Brolin, Sam Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley). And the ads suggested a very close approximation to the original. But in your heart you knew Brolin was no Min-sik Choi and Lee is no Chan-wook Park.

Obviously, both are extremely talented, but the film is a mismatch to their particular gifts. Lee struggles to find a tone, and while Brolin’s transformation impresses, it feels stale and safe when compared to the mania Choi brought to the role.

Most damagingly, screenwriter Mark Protosevich is not up to the task of adapting the original screenplay, or the manga that spawned it.

No, apparently we need a heart. We need a hero. We need a straightforward story where, though details are lurid, lessons are learned. Tidied where it shouldn’t be, sloppy elsewhere (Copley could really have dialed down the Dr. Evil), Oldboy has trouble on every front.

Plot summary for a review of Oldboy will not stand. Even a neutered, disappointing retread deserves to keep all its secrets intact. But Lee and Protosevich pull punch after punch that Park landed with relish, and their reigned-in, moralistic mess of a film won’t satisfy newcomers or fans.




For Your Queue: These Kids are Not All Right


If box office numbers are accurate, you did not see the film Stoker. You can remedy that today, its DVD release date. Filmmaker Chan-wook Park’s gorgeously filmed English language debut plays like a fractured version of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, boasts an excellent cast – Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman – and surprises with every scene. It is worth a look.

If you haven’t seen Oldboy, you are probably sick of people telling you you should see it. So…perhaps you should just see it. From 2003, it is Park’s gripping tale of a man held prisoner by a mysterious captor for 15 long years, then suddenly released. His search to find answers reveals haunting twists and unforgettable moments of tension, heartbreak and perversion. Even if Spike Lee’s upcoming remake is worthy, the original Oldboy should not be missed.



Not So Sure the Kids are All Right

by Hope Madden

If you haven’t seen Chan-wook Park’s twisted revenge fantasy Oldboy, do so immediately. I’ll wait.

Amazing, isn’t it? Hell, his whole Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) inspires awe. Wildly inventive, punishing and entertaining, the films mark a director with a talent for subversive action.

For the Korean filmmaker’s English language debut, he turns his attention to a dysfunctional family drama/mystery. But even a softer Park offers surprising punch.

Mia Wasikowska (The Kids are All Right) plays India Stoker, an odd girl, pensive, in a Wednesday Addams kind of way. A car accident kills her father on her 18th birthday, leaving her to contend with her chilly mother (Nicole Kidman, wonderful) and the surprise, lengthy visit from an Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) she never knew she had.

Wasikowska treads the uneven ground of this character quite well. Never entirely sympathetic, her India strikes the necessary chords to keep Park’s twists believable.

Goode’s an underrated performer. His dreamy good looks and big-eyed eagerness belie a particular kind of weirdness perfect for the role.

The film, quite intentionally, plays like a fractured take on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Uncle Charlie and all. There’s something weirdly amiss – sinister, even – in this house, and the handsome, attentive uncle is clearly not what he pretends to be.

But Park and screenwriter Wentworth Miller have a different tale to tell, one whose lurid details are suggested from the onset with saturated colors, evocative sounds, and the peering camera of Chung-hoon Chung (Park’s regular collaborator). As he slides around corners and crawls along pathways, his camera forever heightens tensions as well as a sense of puzzlement.

Solid performances across the board anchor a story that missteps once in a while. This is the first screenwriting credit for actor Miller (Prison Break), whose efforts were aided by contributions from Erin Cressida Wilson, the pen behind the dark indie flicks Secretary, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, and Chloe.

But it’s Park who makes the film, an effort that could easily have faltered under the weight of style over substance. In his hands, each scene is meticulously crafted – every color, every sound, every glance – to lift the already capable performances and solid script to something better than it should be.

Provocative, slyly funny and a bit twisted (you can expect nothing less from Park), Stoker represents a quietly fascinating image of a twisted family dynamic.

3 1/5 stars (out of 5)