South Korea | Korean, English subtitles
2003 | 120 Minutes
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Yoo Ji-tae
When genre film fans gather; it is inevitable that Oldboy will be mentioned in some facet or another. It is a neo-noir masterpiece that is packed with unforgettable sequences and gut-wrenching twists and turns, that ultimately concludes in one of the most shocking endings in the cinematic history. Now, twenty years after its initial release, the film is being rescanned and restored in 4K format, which has allowed Fantasia to screen the film.
With the final week of the festival on the horizon, announcements were made filling the vacant TBA slots that appear at the tail end of the Fantasia schedule each year. Among them, a second screening of Where The Devil Roams, Ransomed, The Sacrifice Game – and a special screening of the incredible Oldboy as the post-closing film of the festival.
To say I was over-joyed at the announcement of Oldboy would be a massive understatement. I originally saw the film on a bootlegged DVD shortly after its release and prior to it being made available to North American audiences – and it blew my mind and opened my eyes to the realm of South Korean film. Something I remain very thankful for to this day.
Now, normally when an older film gets a surprise screening like this as a festival, it’s either a screening of a rare 35mm print – or as is the case, a 4K rescanning of the original negatives. Seeing Oldboy in 4K had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up already, before the thought stuck me that beyond that – I would be seeing it sat amongst the incredible gathering known as the Fantasia crowd. There is no equal to the audience that attends this festival, let me tell you.
Prior to the film, the protectionist played a commercial for Shin Noodles, who have been supplying festival attendees with free noodles throughout the event (as they did last year) and the crowd, as it always does, showed their love by clapping with a few cheers thrown in. But something strange them happened. They played the commercial again, to laughter and further applause. Then again. But the time the commercial ran for a fourth time, the audience was in a full-blown frenzy, making more noise than any commercial has probably ever received in the history of film. Pure madness. Pure Fantasia.
Then, as is tradition, the festival organizers took time to thank everyone involved in what has been an incredible year for the festival. Thanking all the volunteers and staff that made everyone so wonderful. Classy move from a class act.
Oldboy is the third part of the so-called Vengeance trilogy, although all three films do not really interconnect in any real way. The three films were directed by Park Chan-wook and feature several reoccurring actors but each one plays a different character than that of their respective previous roles. The only thing that really ties them togther being the theme of revenge; hence the dubbing of the vengeance trilogy.
Gloriously violent and over-the-top, Oldboy takes the theme of revenge that was so prevalent in American genre films of the Seventies to a whole new level, a new depth of depravity and extremes – every punch is welcomed and warranted; all leading up to one of the most insane and intense twists I had ever seen in a film up until my initial viewing of this masterpiece of cinema. I literally thought about it for weeks afterwards and spent more than I wish to admit to on a proper release (alright, fine, releases as I also bought the special edition tin DVD set when it came out, and it still proudly sits on my shelves) in North America, just so I could re-watch it on a semi-regular basis for the next two decades… and counting.
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Getting to see Oldboy – which if you’ve read this far you’ll have already figured out is one of my all-time favorite films, has been an absolute treat and the perfect conclusion to what was an incredible programming of the always fantastic Fantasia festival. And if any of the staff or programmers of the festival are reading this – I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks for bring this incredible film to your screens. My initial reaction to the announced screening was that seeing this with a Fantasia festival audience would be beyond fun was proven right. What a night!
It is worth noting that an American remake was made and released in 2013 and that version of the film should be avoided and treated like the plague. All existing copies should be dragged out, burned to a cinder and forgotten about.
You owe it to yourself to see this film, pure and simple.