"Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."
While these words open the famous poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox entitled “Solitude,” they are also repeated often in Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy. As the main character recites these words time and time again, they reflect to his personal affliction and indicate that his suffering is not shared. In essence, the film’s protagonist believes that the only path to conquering his suffering is to seek revenge.
Through and through, Oldboy is a vengeance film. In fact, it’s very similar to Kill Bill in that its lead seeks retribution and is willing to shed blood in the process. On the other hand, Oldboy is also a mystery thriller, a warped romance (to say the least), and an unrestrained karmic adventure.
Dae-Su Oh [or Oh Dae-Su as the Koreans say] (Min-sik Choi) is an ordinary Seoul businessman. After one drunken night with his pal Joo-hwan (Dae-han Ji), Dae-Su finds himself locked in a hotel-like prison cell without an explanation as to why. He describes his unknown captives as “gracious bastards,” because while they keep him locked up, they also cut his hair, change his clothes, and clean up his place after gassing him with valium.
Outside of Dae-Su Oh’s world of captivity, he is framed for the murder of his wife; his disappearance is then explained by him fleeing the scene of the crime. Years later, when Dae-Su is given a third chopstick with his meal by accident, he begins to dig (a la Escape from Alcatraz). As he pokes through the outer wall of the building that houses him, he vows to himself to escape in one month. Yet, before he can escape on his own terms, he is mysteriously released after 15 long years of confinement.
Upon his discharge, he steals a pair of woman’s sunglasses, picks up a new curse word, and orders “something still alive” from a sushi bar. At this sushi bar, he meets Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), a pretty, young chef. The pair connect and begin to unravel the mystery of who kidnapped Dae-Su and why.