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Film / Oldboy (2003)

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

Oldboy is a 2003 South Korean neo-noir action thriller film very loosely based on the Japanese manga of the same name. It is the second and most well-known installment of director and co-writer Park Chan-wook's "Vengeance Trilogy", which begins with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and ends with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

The film follows Oh Dae-su, an alcoholic businessman with a wife and daughter. After being released by the police following a night of drunken misconduct, he is abruptly kidnapped without a trace and ends up 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 a set of 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.

The film's story has several noted parallels to The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as Shout Outs to Titus Andronicus and Oedipus the King.

An English-language remake was released on November 27, 2013, directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, Pom Klementieff, and Rami Malek.

Since this is a movie known for containing major twists and surprises, watch out for spoilers.

The film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Location Change: The original manga was set in Japan. The film moves the setting to South Korea.
  • Age-Gap Romance: While Oh Dae-su isn't a senior citizen (so May–December Romance is averted), he's still old enough to be Mi-do's father. And he is.
  • 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 sad flashback to when his sister committed suicide. Quentin Tarantino was at a screening of the film, and was shocked to find himself crying for a character who had been completely despicable for the entire prior duration of the movie.
  • 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, whether or not any of it will be enough to heal Dae-su's mental scars, and even whether or not any of the above actually happened all unknown.
  • And I Must Scream: Oh Dae-su's predicament — being trapped alone in a tiny apartment with only a TV for company and with no idea why it happened for fifteen years.
  • And Then What?: A central theme of the film: what will Oh Dae-su and Woo-jin do when their goals are achieved? This is something Woo-jin realizes too when Oh Dae-su cuts out his tongue and he orders the box to not be opened.
    Woo-jin: Now...what will I live for?
  • An Insert: One of the most epic examples in all of cinema. After trying and failing to save his falling sister, Woo-jin - in flashback - extends his hand out over the bridge, and slowly curls the fingers as if holding a gun, his present reality and his memory merging. We hear the click back in reality as he mimes cocking it, then pulls the - BANG. Cut back to the elevator, and we see he's blown his head open.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."
    • ''Even though I am no better than a beast, don't I have the right to live?'"
  • Awful Truth: The reveal that he fell in love and had sex with his own daughter utterly breaks Dae-su, who resorts to desperate begging and eventually cutting out his own tongue just so that Woo-jin won't tell her the truth. In the aftermath, he has the hypnotist wipe his memories of the truth just so he can keep living.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Woo-jin gets his revenge, though he has an emotional breakdown and shoots himself in the head almost immediately afterwards. Nobody wins, really.
  • Berserk Button: Never call Soo-ah a "slut" in front of Woo-jin, as Joo-hwan learns the very hard way.
  • Bewildering Punishment: Dae-su has forgotten about the incest rumor he spread in high school and hence fails to link that incident to his cruel imprisonment.
  • Black Comedy: While the film is an incredibly dark and disturbing action thriller about revenge, it surprisingly has a lot more humor in it than you might expect.
  • 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.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Woo-jin commits suicide with a gun to his temple. Earlier, he stops Mr. Han from denying his revenge on Dae-su by using said gun to cap him in the head.
  • Bound and Gagged: This happens on multiple occasions, including to an innocent dentist, Mr. Park, the man who ran Dae-su's prison, and Dae-su himself.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Woo-jin and his sister.
  • Brutal Brawl: The fights in this movie are very realistic, and brutal for it.
  • Brutish Character, Brutish Weapon: Dae-su's only weapon in the hallway fight is a claw hammer. Earlier, he also uses it to torture Mr. Park, the keeper of the prison.
  • 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 the 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 are mentioned at the beginning of the film by Dae-su himself, and later on, they appear at the film's climax when Mi-do wears them.
    • The television in the hotel room. It's how Woo-jin managed to plant the attraction to Mi-Do in Dae-su's mind.
    • The scissors in Woo-jin's apartment. Dae-su later uses them to cut off his own tongue to appease Woo-jin.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Dae-su's daughter, who is discussed in the prologue and given a few mentions afterwards. It turns out she's actually Mi-do.
  • 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.
  • Color Motif: There are constant parallels between Mi-do and Soo-ah, Woo-Jin's sister, throughout the film. One of them is that both Soo-ah and Mi-do dress in predominantly red clothing and are associated with a red color (Soo-ah's red bike and umbrella, the red wallpaper in Mi-do's apartment and prison room).
  • Crazy-Prepared: Everything Dae-su does was predicted by Woo-jin, and to a lesser extent, everyone Dae-su interacts with has their exact reactions plotted out, all the way down to it being heavily implied that Mr. Han knows he'll have to be shot by Woo-jin to stop him from killing Dae-su and fulfilling Woo-jin's vengeance. About the only things Woo-jin didn't account for was Joo-hwan slandering his sister and causing him to kill Joo-hwan in a rage, and if the hypnosis on Dae-su and Mi-do to begin their incestuous relationship would (initially) work.
  • 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. For this film, it's that Mi-do is Dae-su's daughter.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Dae-su vs. an elevator full of mooks. It's 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's 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.
    • Conversely, the fight with Mr. Han has Dae-su get absolutely destroyed, and he would have even gotten killed had Woo-jin not suddenly shot Mr. Han in the head.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Dae-su uses a spare chopstick to carve a hole into the prison wall. This escape attempt is eventually rendered vain when he gets officially released.
  • Cycle of Revenge: One the villain fully set up as part of his Batman Gambit.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: When Dae-su exits the suitcase on the rooftop, he has problems adjusting to the daylight because his eyes have been used to dim indoor light for 15 years.
  • Dead Man's Switch: Woo-jin has a remote control to stop his pacemaker at will which he uses as leverage against Dae-su when the latter threatens him with torture. Woo-jin explains that he would kill himself instantly and Dae-su would never learn why he was imprisoned for 15 years. Subverted at the end when Woo-jin reveals that the remote was actually a laser pointer.
  • Death by Transceiver: No Joo-hwan gets killed by Woo-jin while he and Dae-su are communicating via headset.
  • 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: Subverted. Woo-jin appears to present his plan as this, as he says that his reason for locking up Dae-su for fifteen years is that "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. It's still extremely disproportionate, but not as much.
  • 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.
  • Dressing to Die: Woo-jin takes a hot shower and puts on his best suit before later going into the lift to commit suicide, which is heavily implied to have been his plan all along.
  • Driven to Suicide: As it turns out, the entire film's plot is kicked off by the suicide of Woo-jin's lover after a young Dae-su lets it loose that she was sleeping with Woo-jin. It's scandalous enough on its own, but what's more is that said lover is also Woo-jin's sister, and the resulting shame caused her to kill herself.
    • Woo-jin later kills himself out of shame and emptiness as his revenge on Dae-su is complete, but has brought him nothing.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: After The Reveal regarding Woo-jin's motives and the true nature of Dae-su and Mi-do's relationship, at least half the film starts to look very different for viewers on subsequent watches. The actual ending also plays a part, as Dae-su's painful smile can lead to different interpretations of what exactly happened in the previous scene.
  • Ends with a Smile: Subverted. Oh Dae-su embraces Mi-do after his meeting with the hypnotist and smiles... but it's unclear if his memories of the horrifying revenge Lee Woo-jin manipulated him into have truly been erased, and Dae-su's grin becomes a pained grimace.
  • 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: After much begging from Dae-su, Woo-jin tells the prison warden not to reveal the Awful Truth to Mi-do.
  • 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 then he cries during his memory of Soo-ah, his deceased sister, before shooting himself.
    • It's implied that Mr. Han knows he'll have to be shot by Woo-jin to be stopped from killing Dae-su. When he hands Woo-jin the murder instrument, it's with his usual stoicism.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: An example worthy of Brando during Woo-jin's suicide.
  • Fan Disservice: The first time audiences see the sex scene between Oh 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. Even then, Mi-do cries out that she's in pain during the scene.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Woo-jin might be pretty charming, but that demeanor actually hides a twisted, vengeful self. The prison warden cries that Woo-jin was just so polite the entire time he was forced to give up his hand as penance for Dae-su. What's more, Woo-jin never stops being polite even as he breaks down Dae-su during the climax and reveals that his revenge is complete.
  • Feel No Pain: Due to his fist training, Dae-su doesn't mind Mi-do biting his hand during her interrogation.
  • Finding the Bug: Oh Dae Su mentions wanting to chop off Mr. Park's hand. Later, the villain sends him Mr. Park's severed hand in a box. This causes Oh Dae Su to realize he is bugged and go to a professional to find it. It was located in the heel of his shoe.
  • Finger in the Mail: Dae-su and Mi-do receive a box with a severed hand in it. Turns out it belongs to Mr. Park.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: So, so much.
    • Mr Park notes that imagination can have ruinous effects on a person. It definitely did for Soo-ah.
    • When Mr. Han gives Park a box full of cash, Park smiles fondly at his hand and adjusts his pinky ring. A subtle hint that he willingly gave up his hand as part of Woo-Jin's plan.
    • When Dae-su and Mi-do meet for the first time, they note that the other looks somewhat familiar. They should — they are father and daughter.
    • Dae-su and Mi-do share similar hallucinations. Evidently, In the Blood.
    • In the flashback scene where Dae-su Oh first speaks to Lee Soo-ah, Lee Soo-ah is shown reading a book by Sylvia Plath, an American poet who committed suicide.
  • 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 only with a hammer, for around three uninterrupted minutes.
  • Hereditary Suicide: An unusual variation by way of Together in Death due to the role of Brother–Sister Incest. Soo-ah commits suicide by jumping off a bridge due to either being or believing that she's pregnant with (her brother) Woo-jin's baby. After Woo-jin exacts his revenge on Dae-su decades later, he shoots himself.
  • Hourglass Plot: The story begins with Dae-su looking to take revenge on the person responsible for locking him up for fifteen years. He eventually finds his target Woo-jin, who later informs Dae-su that he hypnotized Dae-su into falling in love with his own daughter as revenge for Soo-ah's death. It is at this point that Dae-su loses interest in killing Woo-jin and begs for mercy instead.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins with a tense High-Altitude Interrogation scene on a rooftop. Then we cut back 15 years to show how Dae-su ended up on that rooftop.
  • Improvised Weapon: A claw hammer, a CD, and a toothbrush are all used as deadly weapons at different points of the film.
  • 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.
    [later] during the Near-Rape Experience
    Oh Dae-su: Can the imaginary training of fifteen years be put to use? [is fought off by a helpless young woman] No. It can't.
  • Irony: The dramatic variant - before Dae-su goes to confront Woo-jin, he has Mi-do temporary locked up for her own safety. Mi-do understands, and prays that Woo-jin will kneel in front of Dae-su and apologize for everything he's done. Dae-su jokingly tells her to pray for a better man. However, after The Reveal, it is Dae-su who is on his knees begging for Woo-jin's mercy.
  • Knockout Gas: To prevent any of the goons getting ID'd, the 'prison' Dae-su finds himself in uses gas to sedate him whenever they need anything from him - be it health checkups, blood to frame him for a murder, or stopping his suicide attempts.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Woo-jin directly points out that Vengeance Feels Empty. Fitting for such a terrifying villain to know what kind of film he's in.
  • Loners Are Freaks:
    • Dae-su is understandably a traumatized, barely-social mess from 15 years of isolation. The prison warden casually mentions anyone imprisoned for over a year gets schizophrenia that's only staved off by medication. Some of his first actions are to rob a woman in broad daylight, ignore a suicidal man, and act like a real creep to a sushi chef he's just met - and that's before he demands a live octopus to scarf down. He later tries to rape Mi-do, then runs away apologizing like a sorry little child.
    • Said sushi chef, Mi-do, "happily" admits she regularly hallucinates insects, is heavily implied to be friendless outside of a mysterious internet stranger who is Woo-jin, easily forgives Dae-su for trying to rape her, and near-immediately proposes noncon play to cheer him up. In fact, Mi-do sympathises with Dae-su's constant hallucination of bugs because loners hallucinate insects, especially ants, and guess what she's been hallucinating?
    • It turns out it's deliberately cultivated by Woo-jin as both punishment and to make the chances of making them fall into an incestuous relationship easier, as they bond over their isolation and weirdness. Furthermore, it's implied Woo-jin and his sister were also weird loners, despite being apparently perfect, and their incest also sprung from it.
  • Lost in Translation: When Oh Dae-su is released from his prison, he talks to a gang of kids who act like they don't understand him. The Korean language had drastically changed over those fifteen years, and Dae-su is speaking a very different dialect than the modern one. Unfortunately, this was lost in the English subtitles. While he does ponder over an insult he's never heard before from the kids and how much time has changed, it's translated as "fucktard".
  • Love at First Sight: Invoked. Oh Dae-su and Mi-do fall in love with each other almost instantly - the film at first implies it's beacuse they're both emotionally-scarred and desperately lonely, but it turns out because they've been hypnotized to do so as part of the villain's plan.
  • 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. The tragic hero in Greek mythology who ended up loving his own mother.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Woo-jin 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. As the elevator descends, all he can do is morosely relive his sister's suicide and her plea to let go before he puts his gun to his temple and kills himself.
  • Missing Floor: The illegal prison that Oh Dae-su was held in for 15 years is located on an unlisted floor in a high-rise, which is accessed by pressing the elevator buttons for floors 7 and 8 at the same time. The "warden" of the prison refers to the location as "floor 7.5".
  • 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 there's 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 him 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.
  • My Fist Forgives You: 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 tell them to back off and Mr. Han shows up to give them a lot of money. Mr. Park is content with the payoff and leaves, though he does whack Oh Dae-su on the head with a bat once for good measure.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Joo-hwan marks himself as an Asshole Victim by callously gossiping about Soo-ah's death, calling her a slut and wondering if he should have gotten in on that in high school. It's not a pleasant thing to say about any 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's spent so many long years constructing.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Interestingly, Dae-su barging into the bathroom and attempting to rape Mi-do shortly after he wakes from a fever is Played for Laughs, and she plays it off with a smile shortly afterwards.
  • Nemesis Magnet: Apparently Dae-su made a lot of enemies in his time because of his unpleasant nature. He wonders which of them was responsible for the punishment he received.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: One big mystery is how the Hell is one man with a grudge six steps ahead of Dae-su, splashing cash to give to him as a "gift", renting out an apartment in infamously expensive Korea just to spy on Dae-su, and locking a man in a Korean mafia's prison for 15 years, well over the amount most criminals can afford? As it turns out, Woo-jin managed to become the president of an unspecified but enormous MegaCorp, and the film further implies he had deep ties with the Korean mafia that helped him kickstart his business and allow armies of goons to do his bidding.
  • 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 having 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.
  • 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.
  • The Penance: Dae-su cuts out his tongue to atone for unwittingly causing Woo-jin's sister to commit suicide.
  • Pensieve Flashback: The flashback at the highschool has adult Dae-su in place of the teenage Dae-su peeking through the window to watch Woo-jin and his sister fooling around.
  • Pet the Dog: Right before the famous Hallway Fight, Dae-su takes 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.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation: The scene transition from the internet cafe to the Sangnok highschool happens seamlessly from a photograph on the high school's webpage to live-action footage of Dae-su and Mi-do arriving at the place.
  • Poor Man's Porn: While imprisoned, Dae-su wanks off to female pop artists on TV since this is all he has for titillation.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: The close-up shot on Woo-jin's temple after he blows his brains out reveals a tiny headwound.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: After acting cool and collected for the entirety of the 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. He has a human silhouette drawn on the wall of his jail cell as a target.
  • Really Gets Around: From No Joo-hwan, we learn that Dae-su had 260 women in his life before getting imprisoned, and Dae-su has to go through every one to make sure they weren't the ones who put the hit out on him.
  • The Reveal: Mi-do is Oh Dae-su's daughter.
  • Ripped from the Phone Book: Before heading out of Mi-do's apartment, Dae-su rips a page from the phone book with the address of the dumpling place.
  • 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.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Joo-hwan, Dae-su's best friend, is murdered by Woo-jin after revealing the source of Woo-jin's motivations due to calling his sister a whore. Dae-su takes his death quite badly.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Dae-su never gets his revenge, and Lee Woo-jin, out of shame, penance, and realizing it accomplished nothing, kills himself after getting his revenge.
    • Park Chan-wook points out in 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Bride of Frankenstein, which is briefly shown on the TV in Dae-su's prison.
    • To Titus Andronicus, including the scene with the tongue, the abuse of a sibling., and the unorthodox revenge plan involving a familial trick.
    • The prison Dae-su was locked in is located on the seventh-and-a-half floor of a building.
    • On the wall of Mi-do's bedroom, there's a picture of King Kong (1933).
    • Mi-do's mysterious friend who turns out to be Woo-jin taunts Dae-su as being the The Count of Monte Cristo, also focusing on a man locked up for years before escaping to enact revenge.
    • The line on the painting of Dae-su's cell reads "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone." These are the first lines of Ella Wheeler Wilcox's famous poem, "Solitude".
    • The recurring painting on the wall of Oh Dae-su's confinement complex is "The Man of Sorrow" by Belgian painter James Ensor.
  • Silence Is Golden: Dae-su's violent reaction to learning Mi-do is his daughter has all of the scene audio replaced with a somber, ambient music cue.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Mi-Do gets orphaned, her mother is murdered, and she's unknowingly hypnotized 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 has obessively tracked Dae-su and Mi-do's every movement from the very moment Dae-su was released.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: Double subverted. It looks like Soo-ah committed suicide after the rumors started 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 seems 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:
    • It's casually revealed that Woo-jin's lover that he's trying to avenge was his sister.
    • Mi-do is Dae-su's daughter, and he only finds out after they've had sex.
  • Taught by Television: Dae-su has learned his fighting moves from watching kickboxing on TV.
  • Tick Tock Tune: The opening credit sequence has ticking and gonging sounds alongside images of clocks.
  • Token Romance: Subverted in the case of Oh Dae-su and Mi-do, since it happening is 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. Fifteen years in a private prison have turned Dae-su into a fearless killing machine, but all of this fits right into the villain's plan.
  • The Tooth Hurts: The tooth-pulling scene.
  • Tragedy: One of the most harrowing ones in film history. Fittingly, the story is patterned on that of Oedipus, one of the best known Greek tragedies.
  • Tragic Villain: Woo-jin is one of the best examples in cinema. Through the course of the movie, he murders people, imprisons a man for 15 years, tortures him, and tricks him into sleeping with his daughter, all for revealing a nasty secret. But when the film flashes back to Woo-jin on the bridge, desperately holding on to his sister as she hangs over the water, you realize that he is ultimately a broken man who needed an excuse, no matter how flimsy, to continue living, as once he gets his revenge, he promptly commits suicide.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The ending is this in spades: 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 happens 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 everything he does plays into Lee Woo-jin's hands. By the end of the movie, he is a very, very broken man.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: 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.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The gang of kids underestimate Dae-su's fitness and get their asses kicked hard.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: Dae-su is unsettled when he learns that Mi-do administered a suppository to him while he was unconscious.
  • Unreliable Narrator: This is downplayed in the case of Dae-su, as his narration of events is trustworthy until the ending in which he meets the hypnotist. As the film points out, there is only one set of footprints in the snow, meaning that the meeting between the hypnotist and him, along with the later Laser-Guided Amnesia he underwent, may not have happened.
  • 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 Mr. Han.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Mi-do, and to a lesser extent Oh Dae-su, in Woo-jin's plans of revenge.
  • 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 Woo-jin had to live for, and he commits suicide when 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, immediately preceding his suicide.
  • 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.
    • Also near the end, and both are an Armor-Piercing Question.
      Woo-jin: It's not "Why did Woo-jin imprison me?" It's "why did he release me"?
      Woo-jin: My sister and I loved each other, despite everything. Can you two do the same?
  • Wham Shot: At the climax of the film, Dae-su finds a picture book of some old photos which contains pictures of his missing infant daughter. As the pictures progress and she ages up, she turns out to be none other than his lover Mi-do, much to his horror.
    • After exacting his revenge on Dae-Su, Woo-jin goes into the elevator, smiling. However, his face then slowly falls into an anguished frown and his head tilts down to cast his features in darkness, extending his hand downwards as he remembers his sister's suicide.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Mr. Han has bleached white hair.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The story is basically The Count of Monte Cristo crossed with a reversed form of Oedipus.
  • The Worf Effect: After training nonstop for over a decade during his imprisonment, Dae-su is good at fighting, but he's a One-Man Army only because the people he fights are hired thugs. When he goes up against Mr Han, a trained bodyguard, he does much worse, and only wins by sheer luck.


Video Example(s):


Scene Transition

The scene transition from the internet cafe to the Sangnok highschool happens seamlessly from a photograph on the high school's webpage to live-action footage of Dae-su and Mi-do arriving at the place.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / PicturePerfectPresentation

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