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Film / Oldboy (2003)

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"I'm here to put up shelves and kick ass..."

"Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."

Oldboy is a South Korean movie very loosely based on the Japanese manga of the same name, and is the second and most well-known installment of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, which begins with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and ends with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. The film also has several parallels to The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as Shout Outs to Titus Andronicus.

Oh Dae-su is an alcoholic businessman with a wife and daughter who is released by the police after a night of drunken misconduct, and then is abruptly kidnapped without a trace. Locked inside a hotel room, completely cut off from the outside world except for a TV, and drugged with knock-out gas every so often, he eventually learns that during his disappearance his wife has been killed, and he has been framed as the murderer. Enraged by his predicament, he finds ways to pass the time, writing his memoirs, training his fists and slowly inching towards his eventual escape.


But days before his long-awaited breakout fifteen years later, he is just as mysteriously released, with nice clothes, money, a cell phone, a severely weakened psyche, a fugitive status and a million unanswered questions. With the help of a female Japanese chef named Mi-do and one of his old computer-geek friends, No Joo-hwan, he tries to piece together the scattered clues of who took his life away from him, cutting down anyone who gets in his path.

An English-language remake was released on November 27, 2013, directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sharlto Copley.

Since this is a movie that has some major twists and surprises, watch out for spoilers.


The film provides examples of:

  • 555: Averted, as the address - both the street number and PO box - to Dae-su's daughter's foster parents in reality belongs to a hotel in Stockholm.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Perhaps one of the darkest versions in cinema. After learning that he was tricked into having sex with his own daughter, Dae-su breaks down, begging Woo-jin not to reveal this to her. He licks Woo-jin's shoes, promises to be his dog, and even cuts out his own tongue.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Right before Woo-jin commits suicide, we have a tearjerker flashback of when his sister committed suicide. Quentin Tarantino was at the screening and was shocked to find himself crying for a character who had been completely despicable for the prior duration of the movie.
  • Always Save the Girl: Oh Dae-su cuts out his own tongue to ensure he can never let Mi-do know that she is his daughter.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Dae-su is re-hypnotized to erase the truth of Mi-do being his daughter from his memory so that they can live a happy life together. The two embrace, with Dae-su breaking into a smile that slowly turns into a look of pain. The film ends there, leaving whether or not the hypnosis worked, whether or not he was ever hypnotized, and whether or not any of it will be enough to heal Dae-su's mental scars all unknown.
  • And I Must Scream: Oh Dae-su's predicament for fifteen years.
  • Arc Words: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Woo-jin gets his revenge, though he shoots himself in the head almost immediately afterwards. Nobody wins, really.
  • Batman Gambit
  • Berserk Button: Never call Soo-ah a "slut" in front of Woo-jin, as Joo-hwan learns a very hard way.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Woo-jin commits suicide with a gun.
  • Bound and Gagged
  • Bloodless Carnage: Not bloodless by any stretch of the imagination, but not nearly as gory as you might expect either. There's no blood at all in the Hallway Fight except for a trickle on Oh Dae-Su - the guy who won. A guy getting stabbed in the eyeball is surprisingly clean as well.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Woo-jin and his sister.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: An exceedingly rare heroic example: Oh Dae-su accuses Woo-jin of hypnotizing him to forget that he was the initial cause of events that led to Woo-jin's sister's suicide. However:
    Lee Woo-jin: You weren't drugged. You just forgot. It wasn't important to you.
  • Car Cushion: The suicidal man lands on a car behind Dae-su, killing himself and his pet.
  • Central Theme: Vengeance Feels Empty
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The angel wings for Dae-su's daughter is mentioned at the beginning of the film by Dae-su himself and later on, appears at the film's climax when Mi-do wears it.
    • The television in the hotel room. That's how Woo-jin managed to plant the attraction to Mi-Do in Dae-Su's mind.
  • The Chessmaster: Lee Woo-jin. And as the film picks up speed, he gets faster.
  • Combat Breakdown: The famous Hallway Fight starts with numerous henchmen launching themselves at Dae-su with great energy as he demolishes them with seemingly superhuman strength, and ends with all parties involved throwing weak punches and aimless swings from exhaustion while struggling to get their breath back.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: The trope itself isn't a spoiler, as it's par for the course as a Park Chan-Wook film and part of the Vengeance Trilogy.
  • Cycle of Revenge
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Dae-su vs. an elevator full of mooks. So incredibly one-sided that we don't even get to see it happen - Dae-su just smiles and we cut immediately to him stepping out of the elevator, over the unconscious or dead bodies of the goons he just demolished. And this is after he just got through an entirely different, equally bruising brawl with a hallway full of guys, and still has a knife sticking out of his back that he barely seems to notice.
  • Determinator: Even after getting mobbed by a dozen guys and stabbed in the back during the famous Hallway Fight, Dae-su simply will not stay down.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Woo-jin practically IS this trope.
    • His reason for locking up Dae-su for fifteen years?
    Woo-jin: Oh Dae-su talks too much.
    • This ends up not being the case at all, however, because what Oh Dae-su talked too much about happened to result in Woo-jin's reputation being destroyed and his sister killing herself. Not so disproportionate after all, ay?
  • The Dragon: Mr. Han, Woo-jin's silent and imposing bodyguard. He shadows his employer throughout the film, assisting him in his plots and protecting him from Dae-su. When Dae-su enters the climax of the film, Mr. Han is his last physical challenge, beating him quite severely.
  • Driven to Suicide: Soo-ah, and later Woo-jin.
    • There's also the man with the dog that Dae-su meets after his release who goes through with it anyway. Dae-su also tries to kill himself at least twice during his imprisonment, but his captors stop him.
  • Drop the Hammer: Dae-su's only weapon in the hallway fight is a claw hammer. Earlier, he uses it to torture Mr. Park, the keeper of the prison.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: Subverted. After the ridiculously intense hallway fight, Dae-su makes it to the elevator at the end of the hallway and finds it packed full of reinforcements for the guys he just beat up, who stare at him - and the fallen bodies of their comrades littering the hallway - in disbelief, before Dae-Su smiles and we immediately cut to him exiting the elevator packed with their unconscious or dead bodies.
  • Enemy Mine: Subverted. Mr. Park says he is siding with Dae-su after Woo-jin cuts off his hand, but it is later revealed that Woo-jin handsomely compensated Mr. Park for his hand and that he has been working for him the entire time.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Mr. Han, Woo-jin's silent bodyguard. He gets one line in the whole movie and almost kills Dae-Su before getting shot in the head by his employer.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Woo-jin tells the prison warden not to reveal the Awful Truth to Mi-do.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Dae-su with Joo-hwan, Woo-jin and his sister, Soo-ah.
  • Eye Scream: Oh Dae-su stabs one of Woo-jin's henchmen in the eye with a broken toothbrush. We don't see anything gory, though.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Subverted. Woo-jin takes a hot shower and puts on his best suit before going into the lift to calmly commit suicide. But he cries during his memories about Soo-ah, his deceased sister, before shooting himself.
  • Fan Disservice: The first time audiences see the sex scene between Dae-Su and Mi-do, it's probably tantalizing. Once they're hit with the revelation of Mi-do being his daughter, the scene is much less appealing in retrospect or upon repeated viewings.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Woo-jin might be pretty charming, but that demeanor actually hides his vengeful self.
  • Fingore: Mr. Park defects to Dae-su's side after Woo-jin amputates his hand. That's the cover story: in reality, Park gave his hand up willingly to gain Dae-su's trust, and the entire reason Park has a new prison in the final act is that it was payment for his hand.
  • Frame-Up: Oh Dae-su is framed for the murder of his wife by a mysterious party. It turns that the one responsible for the murder was Lee Woo-jin.
  • Gainax Ending: It's hard to tell what's real and what's not after Woo-jin's suicide.
  • Gambit Roulette: Woo-jin's plan. In fact, he spends part of the final act genuinely annoyed that it went so well, chiding Dae-su for walking right into an obvious trap by leaving Mido with his previous captor Park.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Dae-su is left completely broken by over a decade locked inside a small hotel room.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation:
    • Dae-su, after learning he has been framed for the murder of his wife.
    • And when he finds out that Mi-do is his daughter.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Two merciful occurrences: When Dae-su rips out Mr Park's teeth with the fork of a hammer, and when he cuts his own tongue out.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Every character has their fair share of regret, tragedy, suffering, and vices that cause everything they end up going through. The one exception may be Mi-do, who ends up in the center of everything whether she wants to be or not.
  • Hallway Fight: In what is arguably the film's most well-known scene, Oh Dae-Su fights his way through a long hallway of mooks, armed with a hammer, for around three uninterrupted minutes.
  • He Knows Too Much: Not only was Dae-su locked up by Woo-jin for spreading the rumors about his sister, Soo-ah, being a slut, but he also had his friend, Joo-hwan, who was one of the people responsible for said rumor, killed by Woo-jin.
  • Incest-ant Admirer: After learning the horrid truth that his lover Mi-Do is his long-lost daughter, Dae-Su gets his memory of the revelation wiped just so he can move on and continue to date his child. Dae-Su knew the truth but Mi-Do didn't.
  • Improvised Weapon: A claw hammer, a CD, and a toothbrush are all used as deadly weapons at different points of the film.
  • Identity Amnesia: Mi-do forgot everything about her old life due to hypnotic suggestion from Woo-jin. She doesn't even remember that Dae-su is actually her father.
  • Informed Self-Diagnosis
  • Ironic Echo: Played for Laughs:
    Oh Dae-Su: Can the imaginary training of fifteen years be put to use? [successfully defeats several thugs] Apparently, it can.
    Oh Dae-Su: Can the imaginary training of fifteen years be put to use? [fought off by a helpless young woman] No. It can't.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The tooth-pulling scene.
  • Karma Houdini: Mr. Park makes it out alright in the end in spite of all the pain inflicted on him. After getting his teeth yanked out, he simply visits a dentist and gets new ones, and he consented to lose his hand to receive a bigger and better building so he can continue his criminal activities.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Joo-hwan callously gossips about Soo-ah's death, calling her a slut and wondering if he should have gotten in on that in high-school. Not a pleasant thing to say about a dead girl, but it really hits an overhearing Woo-jin hard on a personal level and is one of the very few times that someone cracks through the controlled scenario he spent so many long years constructing.
  • Kill Them All: Surprisingly averted in this Revenge story.
  • Love at First Sight: Deconstructed. Oh Dae-su and Mi-do fall in love with each other almost instantly because they've been hypnotized to do so as part of the villain's plan.
  • Made of Iron: Dae-su. The man spends years punching a wall until his joints and calluses make his hands into virtual knuckledusters, but that's the least of it. Stabbed, stomped on, and beaten with sticks, it all only serves to make him get up and continue pummeling his way through that hallway.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted. Mi-do appears to be one in the beginning, but it later turns out she has similarly been hypnotized.
  • May–December Romance: Oh Dae-su is old enough to be Mi-do's father. And he is.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    Suicidal Man/Dae-Su: Even though I'm no better than a beast, don't I have the right to live?
    Cell Poster/Photo Album: Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.
  • Meaningful Name: Park Chan-wook claims that the leading character's name, Oh Dae-Su, is derived from Oedipus.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Woo-jin. He gets the revenge he sought for so long, only to realize that it won't bring his sister back and now his life has no purpose. Cue Woo-jin killing himself.
  • Mook Chivalry: Double Subverted, Cheol-woong's gang initially fights Oh Dae-su together as a group. The problem they face is that he just won't stay down. The more they throw themselves at him, the more he bashes their heads in with his hammer. Eventually, they become so tired and beaten down, they become reluctant to actually continue fighting him, leading to them trying to fight him one at a time.
  • Mook Horror Show: Also Double Subverted. While Dae-Su demolishes the guys in the hallway at first, eventually they overpower him with sheer force of numbers, and he's pushed to exhaustion, beaten down, and eventually knocked down and stabbed. This makes it all the more terrifying for the guys in the hallway when he stands back up and starts kicking ass again. When he gets to the elevator at the end of the hallway and finds it full of mooks, all we see is him giving a sly grin before a Smash Cut to him stepping out of the elevator...and over the unconscious or dead bodies of the guys he's just slaughtered.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: Oh Dae-su tracks down the illegal holding facility where he was kept for 15 years after being kidnapped off the streets. Dae-su asks the warden who it was that paid him to keep Dae-su imprisoned, and when the warden doesn't answer he duct tapes him to his chair. He then uses his claw hammer to pry out the man's teeth one at a time, telling him that he owes him one tooth for each year of his life that was stolen from him. After about 7 or so, he gives the warden a chance to talk, with the implication that he'll continue through with all 15 if he doesn't.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Interestingly, Played for Laughs.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Very averted. Four real octopuses were used for the eating scene. (Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist in real life, gave a prayer before eating each one.) On the other hand, Played Straight as the man who jumps to his death holding a dog near the beginning is holding a rather obvious dummy when he lands.
  • One-Man Army: Dae-su beats down over a dozen men, and then immediately deals with another six or seven without being much worse for wear aside from being beaten and featuring some blood on his head...oh and, you know, a knife wound in the back.
  • The Oner: A number of them throughout the film, the most well-known of them being a lengthy scene in which Oh Dae-su takes on over a dozen men in a hallway armed with just a hammer.
  • The Penance: Dae-su cuts out his tongue to atone for unwittingly causing Woo-Jin's sister to commit suicide.
  • Pet the Dog: Right before the famous Hallway Fight, Dae-su has taken one of the bad guys hostage with a knife across his throat, but tells the others his blood type and deliberately lets him go so two of them can take their wounded comrade away, before the others rush him.
  • Parental Incest: Dae-su unknowingly has sex with his daughter.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Dae-su's torture of Mr. Park, though he tortures him only for information on why he was imprisoned.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Mr. Park and the goons that Oh Dae-su beat up hunt him down for revenge. Just as they're about to torture him, Woo-Jin calls them to back off and Mr. Han shows up to give them a lot of money. Mr. Park is content with the pay off and leaves, though he does whack Oh Dae-su on the head with a bat once.
  • Psychological Horror
  • Psychopathic Man Child: After acting cool and collected for the entire movie prior, Woo-jin shows hints of this as he reveals the truth to Dae-su.
  • Punch a Wall: A large part of Oh Dae-su's self-training.
  • The Reveal: Mi-do is Oh Dae-su's daughter.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Very, very deconstructed. For both Dae-su and Woo-jin.
    • After the Awful Truth is revealed, Oh Dae-su lunges at Woo-jin with a pair of scissors, screaming with rage, but not long afterwards he's desperately begging Woo-jin not to tell Mi-do the truth.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Dae-su never gets his revenge, and Lee Woo-jin kills himself after getting his revenge.
    • Park Chan-wook points out on the commentary how many of Dae-su's efforts ultimately turn out to be pointless; for example, just before Dae-su manages to escape via the hole he has carved in his wall, he is released by his captors.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Woo-jin, after being successful in his elaborated revenge, realizes that he has nothing else to live for and commits suicide.
  • Shout-Out: To Titus Andronicus including the scene with the tongue.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Mi-Do gets orphaned, her mother is murdered, and she's unknowingly hypnotised into an incestuous relationship with her presumed-dead father...all for a gossipy comment her father made when he was a teenager.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Vivaldi's Winter plays while Oh Dae-su rips Mr Park's teeth out.
  • Stalker Without a Crush Woo-jin, towards Dae-su and Mi-do.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: Double subverted. It looks like Soo-ah committed suicide after the rumors start circulating, but when Dae-su is at Woo-jin's penthouse, he finds a picture of her taken at the dam where she died and it's implied that Woo-jin killed her to cover up their incestuous relationship during her phantom pregnancy, making it look like a suicide. In the end it's revealed that Woo-jin was trying to stop Soo-ah from committing suicide but she convinced him to let go of her.
  • Surprise Incest: Mi-do is Dae-su's daughter, and he only finds out after they've had sex.
  • Token Romance: Subverted in the case of Oh Dae-su and Mi-do, since it's part of the villain's revenge scheme.
  • Tongue Trauma: Dae-su ends up cutting out his own tongue as a symbol of penance.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Deconstructed too. Fifteen years in a private prison have turned Dae-su into a fearless killing machine, but all of this seems to fit into the villain's plan.
  • The Tooth Hurts: The tooth-pulling scene.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The ending is this in trumps: Dae-Su learns that, by gossiping about their incestuous relationship, he indirectly caused Woo-Jin's sister to commit suicide; Woo-Jin reveals Mi-Do is Dae-Su's daughter, and they had sex because he orchestrated it; Dae-Su is pummelled by Mr. Han for trying to kill Woo-Jin; Dae-Su cuts his tongue out in a desperate attempt to stop Woo-Jin from telling Mi-Do; Woo-Jin commits suicide, denying Dae-Su his revenge; and finally, Dae-Su gets re-hypnotized to forget everything, although it's unclear if it works, and he's last seen still with Mi-Do. Considering that this all happened after he was imprisoned for fifteen years and his wife was murdered...
  • Übermensch: Oh Dae-su takes on many aspects of an Ubermensch during his imprisonment. Ultimately his character is a massive subversion. Everything he does has been accounted for. He has no control of his own fate and plays into Lee Woo-jin's hands. By the end of the movie he is a very, very broken man.
  • Ugly Guy Hot Girlfriend: Oh Dae-su and Mi-do. They are both this and The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter due to Parental Incest. Justified since Woo-jin hypnotized them into falling in love with each other.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Oh Dae-Su's self taught fighting style is crude and based largely around brute strength and the Invulnerable Knuckles he cultivated for fifteen years. While it proves extremely effective against street thugs and a large crowd of Mooks, he gets thoroughly trounced by the more skilled Mister Han.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Mi-do, and to a lesser extent Oh Dae-Su.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: This is, rather explicitly, the entire point of the film. After destroying Dae-Su, Woo-jin states he has nothing to live for now that he's had his vengeance. He briefly feels joy over exacting his revenge but moments later he returns to being an empty shell mourning the loss of his sister. So after successfully completing his massive, 15 year Batman Gambit, cue Woo-jin blowing his brains out in an elevator.
  • Victory Is Boring: See Vengeance Feels Empty. His revenge plot against Dae-Su was all he had to live for, and he commits suicide once it's done.
  • Villain of Another Story: Mr. Park. Though he plays a big role in Oh Dae-su's story on account of imprisoning him, it's established that Mr. Park runs a decades-long criminal enterprise of locking people away in a private residence as torture. Even without Woo-jin setting the plot in motion, this is something that would have always been going on.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Woo-jin before his suicide.
  • Villainous Incest: Inverted interestingly. Oh-Dae-Su and Mi-Do are a subversion, as they genuinely had no idea, but the villain, Woo-jin, was in a sexual relationship with his sister. However, this is portrayed as happy and equal, and her suicide gets him on his Start of Darkness.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Mr. Park is in essence a warden to a criminal enterprise that imprisons people.
  • Wham Line: Several.
    • After being kidnapped and locked in the hotel room, Dae-Su hears the television broadcast saying that his wife has been brutally murdered...and his DNA was found at the crime scene. And that's within the first fifth of the movie.
    • Then nearer the end:
    Woo-jin: Your tongue got my sister pregnant.
    It's not "why did Woo-Jin imprison me? It's why did he release me?
    Can you two do the same?
  • Wham Shot: As Dae-Su behind looking through a picture book of some old photos, he comes across pictures of his missing infant daughter. Which as the pictures progress and she ages up, turns out to be none other than his lover Mi-Do, much to his horror.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Regardless of if it was unintentional, Oh Dae-Su drove Soo-ah to suicide by gossiping about her incestuous relationship with her brother. Downplayed in that he pays heavily for it.
    • At the beginning of the movie, Oh Dae-su leaves a suicidal man alone on the rooftop after telling him his story, walking away when the suicidal man tries to tell Oh Dae-su why he wanted to kill himself. The film shows the man committing suicide moments later.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: Dae-Su fights off several nooks near the elevator with only a hammer.


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