Parents' Guide to

Oldboy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Great but extremely brutal, vicious revenge story.

Movie R 2003 120 minutes
Oldboy Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 7 parent reviews

age 16+

Magnificent and brilliantly twisted, Oldboy is the ultimate achievement in mystery storytelling but is accompanied by disturbing mature themes, grisly violence and sexual content

Oldboy (2003) follows Dae-su oh, a man who is kidnapped and kept in an unknown prison for 15 years and after his release is given 5 days to find out why. This is truly only the surface level of the film, as it goes much deeper into a grisly and disturbed mystery and because of that, this parental review will have multiple spoilers. Expect strong violence and torture, disturbing themes of incest and related depravity and sexual content. VIOLENCE: SEVERE The film has several action scenes, a handful of brutal torture sequences that do not last very long but are still graphic, three suicide scenes and a few scenes of self-harm and murder. A man tries to kill himself repeatedly in a prison. He does so by repeatedly breaking glass and then cutting himself with it. We do not see him in the act, but we see him afterwards lying in pools of blood with it spilling everywhere. He does survive. A man jumps off of a building and kills himself. We see his corpse, holding his small dog, smash into a car behind the protagonist. Not very graphic but it can be upsetting especially due to a lot of context going behind the scene. A man fights several other men by punching and kicking them. The scene isn’t very violent and doesn’t last too long. A man lunges onto a woman while she is on the toilet as an attempt to have sex with her, but he is pushed away. This is not depicted as a rape but a man’s desperate attempt for sex. There is a very brutal torture sequence where a man has his entire head duct taped to a chair with his mouth propped open wide. The torturer lodges a hammer claw in between the man’s teeth as he shrieks in pain and starts to rip out his tooth as blood seeps from his gums in extreme close up. Then, the torturer roughly twists up the hammer multiple times removing the teeth with the actual gore being out of view, but loud crunches, screams and noises are heard with the man using the hammer shown (but the victim below the camera). Bloody teeth are seen falling onto a keyboard throughout the sequence. Afterwards, the victim is seen with blood all over his chin and a rag shoved into his mouth. He survives later into the film and is seen with golden teeth. A man uses a hammer to fight through a hallway of countless henchman. He is seen using the hammer to beat the men on the head and body, but nothing graphic is shown out of this at all. As he fights, he is repeatedly beat, thrown to the ground and attacked and eventually stabbed in the back with a large blade. With the blade still sticking out of his back, he uses his fists to down the rest of the men but none of them actually die. They are all seen laying on the ground in pain after, but the sequence would be suitable for a PG-13 film. A man enters an elevator, and the scene cuts to after he exits with blood on the walls of the elevator and multiple men falling out, likely dead, implying they were killed with a hammer which is discarded on the floor when he exits. The man also rips out the knife from his back. A woman is seen with her shirt ripped open revealing her bare chest while several goons stand around her, meanwhile her lover is strapped to a chair, has his mouth propped open with a dental tool and has one of his teeth ripped out with the claw of a hammer. While this is pretty graphic it isn’t as extreme as the first torture scene, as all we see is the man twisting the hammer quickly. He screams in pain. Afterwards, he is beaten on the head with a blunt object and left on the ground, but is let go. A man is viscously stabbed over and over with a broken computer disk. Not a lot of blood is shown, but he is seen using the brutal force of his own body to stab him numerous times and then afterward the victim gurgles and dies with some blood being visible on his arms and the killers face. A man’s severed hand is shown in a box. It is implied it was cut off by a sadistic man. A man is stabbed in the face and another man is stabbed in the throat with a broken toothbrush in quick succession. The kills are quick but in heavy impact. Afterward, their bodies (with blood staining them) are dragged away. After hearing horrific news, a man purposefully crashes through glass containers to harm himself and then, wielding a pair of scissors he jumps onto a man, flies over his shoulders and crashes into a window which shatters. Blood starts squirting out of the other man’s ear because it is revealed that is where he was stabbed. The two men continue fighting with one holding the bloody scissors to the others neck, but this is quickly interrupted by a man approaching and suddenly shooting one of the men in the back of the head. Blood is seen pooled all around his corpse, and blood squirts onto the shooters face which he wipes off. The other man is pretty much covered in blood on his face. A man uses a pair of scissors to cut off his own tongue. He is seen placing the scissors onto his tongue, and then (with the camera positioned above his mouth to avoid showing gore) he squeezes the blades together while he screams in agony. After he cuts off his tongue, he spits and slobbers blood everywhere including into water where bloody red mists spread around. At this stage blood is seeping from his mouth, covering his face and clothing and he is begging for his life at the same time. The villain sadistically chuckles and struggles not to laugh while this is happening, making the scene all the more disturbing and horrible. He shoves a rag into his mouth and laughs at him more. Excruciatingly graphic despite camerawork to avoid the gory sight itself. A girl voluntarily let’s go of a boys hand and falls from an incredible height into a dam. This is more emotionally driven than disturbing. A man suddenly shoots himself in the head which splatters blood all over the side of the elevator he is in. A bullet hole and lots of blood is seen on the side of his head as well. An entire 20 minute sequence towards the end of the film is non-stop disturbing violence which was previously described. Otherwise, violence is strong but infrequent in the films earlier acts. LANGUAGE: SEVERE The film has language throughout, but depending on the translation of the film there may be more or less expletives. No matter the version of the film, the words fuck, shit, bitch and dick are said many times with the word fuck being used the most. In the original English translation there are several uses of fuck, but less than the re-release. The word “dickshit” is used several times. I’m the re-release version of the film, there are around/over 50 uses of fuck, several uses of shit, bitch, dick and other swears. The word “fucktard” is used several times. In the German translation several uses of fuck are turned into cocksucker. The language is quite prominent throughout this film, especially since Korean films do not have a reputation for using profanity. SEXUAL CONTENT: SEVERE There are many sexual scenes in this film, some of which are disturbing and very uncomfortable to watch. There is also nudity and themes of incest. While watching the TV with dancing women on it, a man masturbates desperately due to being held in captivity. We hear noises and can see him making a jerking motion but the camera focuses on his face and no nudity is shown. After he is finished, he looks down at his hand and the scene ends from there. A woman is seen sitting on the toilet when a man opens the door to the bathroom and jumps onto her making sexual advances, but she strikes him away. This is not depicted as a rape but rather as the man’s desperate attempt for sex. A man and woman make a deal to have sex, and the woman says that she “will struggle at first, but to just keep pushing” and the man listens to what she says. A woman’s bare breasts are seen exposed when multiple thugs tie her to a wall to humiliate her lover. She is not assaulted, but it is implied they touch her breasts. The nudity is shown extensively throughout the scene which is long. A man and a woman have sex on a bed. The woman’s bare breasts are shown as she moans loudly, and the man thrusts aggressively. The sex is seen from multiple different angles with nudity and sexual movement seen in and out of view, but no genitals, penetration or gratuitous nudity is shown. The woman says that it hurts but she is pushing through to satisfy him and she makes other sexual comments. It is later revealed that the two are father and daughter, and that they were brainwashed into thinking that they were not so that they would have sex. This is extremely disturbing and horrific and afterthought but the viewer should not know of this during the sex scene. A man eerily crawls into bed with a couple, who are naked under the covers (removing nudity). The man lifts up the blanket and strokes the side of the woman’s buttocks. A brother and sister are seen having sexual relations while being spied on. We see the brother taking pictures of the sister, and then he removes her panties from under her skirt (no genital nudity shown) and then he unbuttons her top which exposes her erect nipples and breasts. The brother licks and sucks on her nipple while she looks at herself through a mirror. It is also implied the brother and sister had sex as well. A man, after finding out he was tricked into having sex with his own daughter, has to listen to the sounds of him having sex with her from earlier. We hear the sexual comments, moans along with other things while he listens in agony. The sexual content is strong and disturbing at times. DRUG CONTENT: MILD There is some smoking, a character is seen to be a drunken alcoholic at the beginning and acts erratically due to being intoxicated. Valium gas is used to drug prisoners in a large building. Drinking, some smoking and nothing much else. OVERALL: 16+
age 16+

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (7 ):
Kids say (10 ):

Park Chan-wook's vicious story of vengeance is shocking but explores the complexity of human nature on a thrillingly primal level. The first images of Dae-su in Oldboy -- seen in Korean with English subtitles for this review -- are of an obnoxious drunk, but it's not long before his confinement makes us sympathetic; no one deserves this kind of torture. Yet his mind is free, and it's intriguing to see his attempts to pass the time, to hold onto something. All the while, the mystery of his imprisonment makes these moments doubly intriguing. Even after the character's release, Park continues to sustain the movie's intensity to the final shot, playing off of the character's transformation.

Now taut, darkened, and haunted, he's as unsure of himself around his love interest Mi-do as he is capable of violence. An unforgettable scene has him eating a live squid just to feel the sensation of it. But in arguably the movie's most famous shot, Park simply tracks left and right for several minutes as Dae-su fights dozens of men in real time. But within the adrenaline rush of his revenge journey, Mi-do (and other female characters) pay the price for male ego. Park fails to give them any agency, leaving a sour taste in an otherwise intriguing and brutal mystery.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: July 30, 2003
  • On DVD or streaming: March 25, 2005
  • Cast: Choi Min-sik , Kang Hye-jung , Yoo Ji-tae
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Inclusion Information: Asian directors, Asian writers
  • Studio: Tartan Video
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Run time: 120 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language
  • Last updated: June 20, 2023

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