Director: Park Chan-wook
Low angle camera, a hidden dark face, and rushing music: this is how Park Chan-wook chooses to open his masterpiece Oldboy and this is how he chooses to kill us. The film follows Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a man imprisoned for fifteen years without knowing why. The audience witnesses his release and journey of vengeance in a two-hour adrenaline-infused epic of suspense and violence. The film is a vision of brilliant cinematography and editing. There is no single camera technique which highlights the filmmaker’s talent instead he masterfully utilizes a wide range of shots, movement, and angles and that is exactly how he shows us his talent: he can do everything. Most prominent is the fluid camera movement that feels like a free wandering eye sometimes racing from one place to another thus conveying a dramatic effect and at others gliding between bodies and faces thereby demonstrating the interconnectivity of characters. Not only camera movement but close-ups, focus, crane shots, and long takes are all key stylistic elements employed to their full potential throughout the film.
However, the film wouldn’t be the same without its magnificent editing style. The cut is skillfully used not merely as a tool but as language, speaking to the audience and revealing only what should be revealed; the necessary and the beautiful. Furthermore, the editing techniques used – including jump cuts and match cuts – weave together events from the past and the present, from different places and points of view; it is done seamlessly and the audience is immersed in every moment. Unlike the standard action movie, Oldboy does not use a thrilling score with a fast tempo; on the contrary, most of its musical score is classical, fitting perfectly in the atmosphere of the film’s suspense.
The film’s shocking reveal is beyond anything we can expect or imagine that it leaves us as devastated as Oh Dae-su, if not more so since we can do nothing but watch from afar as he and his captor battle till the very end. The film succeeds because of its technical excellence but also because it addresses universal themes and clicks into our innermost fears of humiliation, shame, and loss of love. With elegantly terrifying images that capture and transmit fear, the film kills us over and over again with every close-up, scream, and camera jerk.
“Thank you for listening to a terrible story till the end,” writes Oh Dae-su and to Park Chan-wook we reply, “Our pleasure.”