Oldboy

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Oldboy Movie Poster Image
Great but extremely brutal, vicious revenge story.
  • R
  • 2003
  • 120 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The ultimate takeaway here is that all the trouble started when one character was being too nosy, although no characters in this story are innocent. The ultimate point, for all the characters, is revenge, cold and brutal.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character changes drastically during his imprisonment, but it's arguable whether this is a good thing or not. He loses weight and gets in shape (learns how to fight) and he stops drinking, but he also becomes razor-focused on revenge and he loses much of his humanity in the process.

Violence

Strong fighting/long, sustained fight scene. Fighting with hammer. Lots of blood. Kidnapping, imprisonment. Woman tied up/women briefly victimized. Characters die. News report discussing "stab wounds" on a murder victim. Ant burrowing through skin/ants attacking. Severed hand. Punching wall/bloody fists. A man forcibly tries to tear a woman's panties off; she hits him and he stops. Man falling from building (suicide?), smashing on top of car. Pulling teeth with hammer. Man struggling, trying to fight cops. Threatening. Man eating live squid. Some guns and shooting. Man cuts off own tongue. Overall, general, psychological torture.

Sex

Man and woman have sustained sex, female breasts/bottom shown. Woman's naked breast exposed while tied up. Man's naked bottom, from a distance. Teen boy coaxes a teen girl to take off her panties, bra. Naked breasts shown. Kissing. Brother and sister shown to have sexual relationship. A teen girl is described as a "whore." Man masturbating to images of clothed women on TV (nothing sensitive shown). A woman is said to be pregnant. A man sleeps with his own daughter, though their true relationship is unknown to both of them.

Language

Frequent uses (in English subtitles) of "f--k," "s--t," "motherf----r," "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "piss," "dicks--t," "hell," "whore," plus "oh God."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character is very drunk in one scene. Character sprayed with Valium gas every night. Brief smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Oldboy is a classic but brutally violent movie from South Korea, and a beloved cult favorite among fans of genre movies. It contains a whopper of an ending, and it's difficult to discuss the movie without giving anything away, but it contains extremely mature sexual themes, a sustained sex scene, and some nudity (female breasts and bottom, male bottom). Woman are somewhat victimized in subtle ways: one is tied up, there's a quick, attempted rape, etc. Several strong, vicious fight scenes involve martial arts, blunt objects (a hammer), and lots of blood. Characters die. Some shooting is involved, plus arguing, struggling, characters kidnapped and trapped. Language (in English subtitles) is extremely strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. A character appears very drunk in one scene, Valium gas is used to put someone to sleep, and smoking is shown. Overall, this is highly recommended, but only to older teens and those with strong stomachs.

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What's the story?

In OLDBOY, businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is drunk one night and is arrested. While a friend picks him up from the police station, he's suddenly and mysteriously abducted. He finds himself in a room where he's served meals, given a TV, and gassed every night at bedtime. He is locked up there for 15 long years, without explanation. After a time, he begins punching the walls, practice fighting, to take out his anger. He also makes an escape attempt, and is nearly out, but finds himself suddenly released. He goes looking for something to eat and meets chef Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung); she takes pity on him and brings him to her home. He becomes obsessed with figuring out why he was imprisoned and who did it. Little does he know the danger he will face, as well as the horrible truths he will discover.

Is it any good?

Park Chan-wook's vicious story of vengeance is shocking in ways that most other movies can't perceive, but it contains an irresistible flicker of humanity, and it works on a thrillingly primal level. The first images of Oh Dae-su in Oldboy (2003) -- in Korean with English subtitles -- are of an obnoxious drunk, but it's not long before his confinement makes him 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 being there makes these moments doubly intriguing. Even after the character's release, Park continues to sustain the movie's intense spell to the final shot, playing off of the character's transformation.

Now taut, darkened, and haunted, he's as unsure of himself around 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 Oh Dae-su fights dozens of thugs in real time. The movie keeps the mystery going in a satisfying and intelligent manner, giving it an appropriate, quite brutal payoff that doesn't cheapen the story. The showdown, set in a penthouse lined with quiet, indoor streams, is a place of order that is soon turned to chaos. (Spike Lee's English remake, Oldboy, was released in 2013.)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Oldboy's use of violence. How intense is it, and what effect does it have? Is it thrilling? Gruesome? How much is directed toward women?

  • How does sex come into the plot? Is sex used in a negative way? What kind of values does the movie impart?

  • Why are revenge stories so appealing or satisfying? In real life, what does revenge accomplish?

  • Is Oh Dae-su a sympathetic character? Does he start that way? At what point do we begin to identify with him?

  • How does this original version compare to magna? To the Spike Lee remake?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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