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OldBoy

Okay, guys. Here's the number one rule of truly fucked-up movies.

I'm not talking movies that are fucked up because they suck, I'm talking about movies that are fucked up because when you see them you have no possible critique but saying, "Whoa, that was fuuucked up."

Like the last twist of SE7EN. Not a movie I particularly like, but that was seriously fucked up.

And, whoah, FIGHT CLUB, that was seriously fucked up.

And NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE. Fucked up. And SAW, and for that matter THE RAPTURE, whoah, that was fucked up. And MAY, with Angela Bettis. Whoaaaaahhhh.

I mean fucked up in the sense of being, like, seriously disturbing.

"Whoah. Dude. That's fuuuuuuuucked UP!"

The point here is that I haven't seen a movie as seriously, primally, hot-poker to the base of the spine Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked-UP as Korea's OLDBOY in years.

I mean, YEARS.

Years and Years and Years and YEARS.

Concept is about a poor, drunken shmuck of a guy, hauled into the police station on the birthday of his five-year-old daughter, bailed out by a friend, kidnapped on his way back home to apologize to his family.

Wakes up in a chamber that looks like a dingy hotel room. Cheap stained carpeting, ugly wallpaper, tv and bathroom. Thick cell door, through which he is fed the same meal -- fried dumplings -- three times a day.
From time to time a gas enters the room through the radiator, knocking him out so his jailers can change his clothes and clean the place a little. His captors refuse to tell him why he's there. After about a year without any human contact he sees a news report on tv to the effect that his wife has been murdered and that his fingerprints have been found all over the crime scene. He goes a little apeshit in isolation, and starts literally pounding the walls, training himself for the one chance to someday get his hands on the unknown persecutors who have locked him here.

Fifteen years later, the traumatized, shellshocked wreck of the man he once was is dropped off in the middle of town with a wallet full of money and is told that his enemy is not quite done with him yet.

That's, like, the first twenty minutes.

I haven't even mentioned the suicidal gay guy with the toy poodle.

Also in the first twenty minutes.

THAT scene is as fucked-up as it gets.

That fuckin' poodle, man.

I'll be YEARS getting over that.

And if what's happened so far is seriously fucked up, then trust me when I tell you that it doesn't even hold a candle to the barest shadow of the degrees of fucked-up that this movie still has in store.

The villain, who has reasons persuasive to him, hasn't even STARTED putting this poor not-quite innocent shmuck through hell.

This is not a standard revenge fantasy, of the Hollywood stripe. Our protagonist -- one sincerely hesitates to call him hero -- has been deranged to the point where he's a profoundly dangerous enemy, and he is implacable in his pursuit of the bad guy, but the outrageously baroque backstory, and the ultimate permutations of the evil plot, have little to do with the violence done to his person, or with the violence he commits he return.

Not that there isn't plenty of that. The movie has an astounding action setpiece, fairly early on. The protagonist has managed to identify the gang that imprisoned him on the bad guy's behest. He comes across about thirty of them, in a dingy, narrow corridor, armed only with a claw hammer. And he wades into them. The scene is amazing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with martial arts. Our protagonist's fifteen years of imprisonment have not made him a creature out of THE MATRIX. He is just an infuriated brawler who simply doesn't care how much he hurts. It's a scene about the one infuriated drunk too out of his mind to be put down by two dozen bouncers long after a sane guy would be down, and it's all filmed in one long take, panning along that dingy, ill-lit corridor while the guy with the ruined life lashes out with all the fury at his disposal.

That beats matrix-fu any day. Best fight scene in, oh God, I don't know how long.

But like I said, one really long paragraph ago, it ain't about the physical violence.

That's not what it's about.

It's about doing one poor shmuck such emotional damage that his soul is one big scab, making him think he can't be hurt as bad as he's already been hurt, and THEN demonstrating to him that everything he's been through before is just raw preamble.

There are moments of incredible, dark beauty in this thing. The scene where our hero first feels rain on his hands. A long, erotic scene of adolescent sexual experimentation. Another love scene in a hotel room.
One set in a frigid snowscape. That fuckin' poodle, man.

And that octopus. Don't even get me started on the octopus.

And scenes that are just plain cold, as when our protagonist catches up with his tormentor fairly early on, and is ready to tear him to pieces with his bare hands, and is told, sure, go ahead. Kill me now. But you'll never know WHY.

It's almost impossible to imagine this story being remade, in English, with an American movie star, for American consumption, without having the guts ripped out of it. This is not studio product. This may be ridiculous and it may be hard to take, but it is primal and it is passionate.

Cripes.

 

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