These are the movies that are so strange, so deliriously out of whack that they stop even our hard-bitten writers in their tracks. These are the films that are weird beyond belief, the ones that stick with you whether you want them to or not. Spectrum Culture is pleased to present a new Film Feature: WTF?

The second installment of the “Vengeance” trilogy by Korean director Chan-wook Park, Oldboy is dark, uncertain and gruesome. Upon escape from his hotel-room style prison, Oh Dae-Su, 37 at capture and 52 at release, devotes himself to tracking down those responsible for his lost years. While still incarcerated by thuggish mystery men for reasons unknown to him, he compiles a list of all those whom he may have at one time slighted, and who may have had some interest or part in his misfortune. At the same time, his disappearance came one year after the murder of his wife, just as he was becoming a person of interest in its investigation. Cut off from his family, at the end of his psychological rope, trying desperately to adapt to a world with which he’s been completely cut off for more than a decade–he receives help from a surprising source, a friendly sushi chef. Together, they unwind the thread surrounding the reason he’s gone insane.


But unwinding a thread means getting to the spindle in the center and the thread’s end, and this is something Oh Dae-Su clearly did not count on. The result, and the wind-up, is staggering as well as bizarre. While locked away, he lives a claptrap existence suspended somewhere between Pavlov’s dog and Schrodinger’s cat. Bereft of any human contact but occasionally gassed and tested upon while dosed, in his waking hours employing the television as his god, he gradually punches through the concrete wall and marks the years in self-made prison tats. Out in the world, mentally unstable and liable to sexually assault a passing female at any moment, he pulls a victim’s teeth with a claw hammer and engages in a prolonged fistfight with a group of thugs.

Escher stairs, incest, pacemakers, hypnosis, a human hand in a purple box, Chaplin somersaults, flashbacks and hallucinations, painful-sounding sex, an Oedipal act of self-mutilation, a smiling, genially DiCaprio-ish villain–what crazy fucked-up bullshit does this movie not have? Expectations are always strong going into a film with a reputation like Oldboy’s, but such concerns can be waved away. Is it kind of like Tarantino? Yes. Does it borrow heavily from Hitchcock, take some from Woo and Kaufman and countless others? Sure. Does that mitigate the validity of its brilliance at all? Perhaps. But is it bloody, bizarre and violent, and does it also feature a grown man on his hands and knees barking like a dog and then, later, cutting off his own tongue with a pair of scissors? Oh yes.

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