36 Films: Oldboy (2003)

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t inexplicably kidnap and lock us in a hotel room for fifteen years.

Part 19 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Involuntary Crimes of Love” with Oldboy.

The Synopsis

Upon passing out in the middle of the street after calling his young daughter to wish her a happy birthday Dae-Su Oh awakens alone in what appears to be a hotel room with no outside view, locked doors and a small opening at the bottom of the front where someone occasionally comes to leave him food. Essentially, he’s been imprisoned for reasons unknown to him and remains locked away for fifteen years. Exactly on the anniversary of his fifteen year non-sentence he is just as mysteriously set free. Dae-Su then proceeds a personal investigation to identify the person responsible for taking the last fifteen years of his life, and find out why.

The Situation

“Involuntary Crimes of Love” – This situation can involve a very broad set of circumstances ranging from unknowingly having an affair with ones relative to unknowingly having an adulterous affair with someone one didn’t know was married.

Oldboy, for as shocking as the reveal of the culprit and the revenge plot itself turns out to be, the situation as it applies to the text is specifically identified in the 36 Dramatic Situations as Discovery that One has Married Ones Sister as Villainously Planned by a Third Party. Technically, it isn’t marriage, nor is it ones sister, but it’s close enough. I don’t even think Dae-Su Oh had a sister, so therefore the villain couldn’t even incorporate that into his plot if he wanted to. I mean, you wouldn’t want to follow the situation *exactly*, that wouldn’t be very original villainous activity.

The Movie

Chan-wook Park was a relatively unknown name to world cinema until this film made its rounds in 2003 where it made a huge splash at Cannes. It was Park’s second entry into his planned, and now completed, Revenge Trilogy and this was the film that ingrained Park’s name into the conscious of viewers with its audacious material of combining blunt, unfettered violence with the sharpest of dark humor on par with Spain’s Pedro Almodovar.

A great deal of the film’s refreshing appeal aside from some of the well staged action sequences (the fight in the hallway of the prison is captured brilliantly) and one of the most impressive performances that isn’t recognized enough from lead actor Min-sik Choi are the well conceived details of the revenge plot in that it truly is impossible to figure out the responsible party, or the reason for the imprisonment as neither are ever mentioned or hinted at during any point of the run-time preceding the climax. Like Dae-Su Oh we really have no idea who or why and there’s little chance you’ll conclude correctly for either before the character does, which is how a mystery plays out best.

Because we’ve become accustomed to actively put the pieces of the mystery together as a story progresses so that we can feel a sense of accomplishment from our seat it’s interesting to see a filmmaker take a revenge story and omit clues and hints so that focus and attention is placed on the content and visuals while still keeping us engaged and intrigued to discover the details of the situation. Oldboy is a masterpiece of story structure, with a powerhouse performance from the lead and some ingenious camerawork to make for a picture as unforgettable as the events experienced by Dae-Su. Even though he forgets them.

Bonus Examples: Excalibur, Up in the Air

Click here to read our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies

Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game

Deliverance – The Rescuers

Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish

Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King

Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs

Disaster – Airplane!

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery

Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin

Daring Enterprise – The Professionals

Abduction – The Chaser

The Enigma – Se7en

Obtaining – There Will Be Blood

Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors

Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men

Murderous Adultery – Match Point

Madness – Grizzly Man

Fatal Imprudence – The Fly

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy

Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween

Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger

Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri

All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent

Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story

Adultery – In the Mood For Love

Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon

Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen

Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris

An Enemy Loved – Underworld

Ambition – Wall Street

Conflict With a God – The Truman Show

Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding

Erroneous Judgment – The Contender

Remorse – In Bruges

Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone

Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary

Adam Charles has been a film fantatic and unhealthily obsessive purchaser of films he's never seen since the late '90s. He's lived in Austin, TX since 1992 and dropped out of college when he realized his full time job would better fund his dvd (now blu-ray) and movie poster addiction than his passion probably ever could. He is nearly out of financial debt, but it's gonna be another decade or so before he catches up on watching everything he's irresponsibly purhcased. He has written in the past for Collider.com and Horrorsnotdead.com, and can be found on twitter as @the_beef - a label he's had since well before Shia LeBeouf was even a sperm and therefore Adam wins.

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