Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
Oldboy (2003) | Directed by: Park Chan-Wook| Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang
Written by: Ben Steiner
Analysis & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Oldboy Through Alien Eyes
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is Oldboy, starring Choi Min-sik, which, roughly translated, means “Korean Josh Brolin.”
Now I should probably give you a spoiler alert, but I’m not going to, because my policy is that if you haven’t seen it after 12 thousand years, you’re probably not gonna see it.
Oldboy tells the story of Oh Dae- su, a man who is celebrating his daughter’s fourth birthday by getting wasted, which is what humans call it when they get slizzered. He is promptly kidnapped, and wakes up in a hotel- inspired prison, so basically a Best Western. He is held captive there for fifteen years, during which he passes time by punching the wall.
Dae-su is released without explanation, and immediately finds the nearest restaurant, where he ingests what I believe is called a KFC Double Down [shot of the live octopus]. It is here that he befriends Mi-do, a young chef who is sympathetic to his cause…
Eventually, Dae-su’s captor reveals himself. His name is Lee Woo-jin, and as Dae-su discovers, they went to high school together. Go Wildcats! Dae-su suddenly and conveniently remembers that while in school, he had spied on Woo-jin having incestuous relations with his sister, then spread rumors about it, causing the sister to kill herself [shot of sister falling from the bridge]. Coincidentally, the prom theme that year was “Enchantment Under the Waves.”
Woo-jin saves the best for last: Mi-do is actually Dae-su’s daughter! If there had been a spoiler alert, it would have been right before that. Woo-jin imprisoned Dae-su for fifteen years so his daughter could grow up, and then used hypnosis to spark an attraction between the two. Classic Woo-jin. Ever the concerned father, Dae-su begs Woo- jin not to tell Mi-do the truth, even cutting out his own tongue as a gesture of goodwill, or maybe just to be gross. Woo-jin agrees, and then gratefully accepts his membership in the “killing yourself” club. Later, Dae-su and Mi-do hang out in the snow.
One of the most important themes in Oldboy is the human concept of the truth. Although Dae-su is let out of captivity, the only way he can really free himself is by discovering the truth of why he was locked up. Until then, he is merely living in a “bigger prison.” Presumably smaller than the prison planet, Phantron 8, but still pretty big. Humankind was obsessed with the truth, insisting it be upheld in business and personal relationships, although not in politics for some reason. As keeper of the truth, Woo-jin taunts Dae-su by saying, “Like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler, free yourself.”
The best way to free yourself is with money — I’m talking cold, hard won. Woo-jin is exhorbitantly wealthy, which makes him virtually omnipotent, like the flying guy in the Superman movies. With enough money, he can pay to have a man imprisoned for fifteen years, or get a man to cut off his own hand, or have a doctor install a kill switch for his pacemaker.
Heck, with the kind of dough he’s throwing around, he could probably buy the New York Yankees, whatever that is. Conversely, Dae-su is a salaryman, whose name means “getting through one day at a time.” He fights back against the system using common items like a hammer (a symbol of the proletariat) and a toothbrush (a symbol of tartar control).
You might even say Oldboy holds a mirror up to capitalist society. The reason you might say this is because mirrors are featured prominently in the film. Here we go, rapid fire: Dae-su tries to kill himself using glass from a mirror (11:30). When Dae-su confronts Woo-jin (1:30:47), he is shown in the mirror. Woo-jin’s sister uses a mirror to see Dae-su spying on her. Dae-su’s face is reflected at the end of the photo album (1:37:22). During the final hypnotism, Dae-su sees the monster’s reflection in the window (1:54:00). The last two aren’t technically mirrors, but come on, cut a guy some slack. These mirrors (and mirror substitutes) indicate the fragmentation of the self, which for us is normal, but for humans was distressing. Dae-su asks himself, “After my revenge will I be able to go back to the old Oh Dae-su?” The old Oh Dae-su has a tongue, so probably not.
Oh Dae-su is similar in many respects to the Greek character Oedipus, from his name to his haircut. Oedipus relentlessly pursues the truth against the advice of his wife-slash-mother Jocasta. Similarly, Dae-su pursues Woo-jin at his penthouse against the advice of his girlfriend-slash- daughter-slash-sidekick Mi-Do. When the truth is discovered, Oedipus stabs his eyes out with gold pins.
Dae-su cuts out his tongue with scissors made of an undisclosed
material, most likely metal. Woo-jin says revenge is good for your health, like a nice juice cleanse. But what happens when the revenge is complete? Will those old painful feelings return [Woo-jin shooting himself in the head]? I’m leaning toward yes.
Perhaps the only real salvation is to forget. After Oh Dae-su finds out about the whole daddy-daughter situation, he asks the hypnotist to help him forget his secret and kill “the monster.” Despite what the human bible says, the truth doesn’t always set you free. This is the only inaccuracy in the human bible.
The ending is ambiguous. Dae-su smiles, but his smile quickly fades into a frown. Has he successfully forgotten? Is he laughing with the world? Or is he weeping alone? Or is he just freezing his cute little butt off?
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. To get revenge on someone from your past, click the subscribe button.