Oh Dae-su

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Oh.
Oh Dae-su
First appearance Oldboy
Created by Garon Tsuchiya
Joon-hyung Lim
Portrayed by Choi Min-sik
Gender Male
Occupation Businessman
Spouse(s) Kim Ja-Hyun (wife, deceased)
Significant other(s) Oh Yeun-Hee/Mi-do
Children Oh Yeun-Hee/Mi-do (long lost daughter)
Religion Catholic
Nationality South Korea South Korean

Oh Dae-su (Hangul: 오대수) is a fictional character and the protagonist of the 2003 South Korean film Oldboy, played by Choi Min-sik. Choi won a number of awards for his portrayal of Oh, including the 2004 Grand Bell Award[1] and Asia Pacific Film Festival Award[2] for Best Actor. He also trained for six weeks and lost twenty pounds to get in shape for the role, and did most of his own stunt work.[3]

Oh Dae-su is loosely based on the character Shinichi Gotō from the Japanese manga Old Boy, on which the film is also based. He has also been compared to Franz Kafka's Josef K, from The Trial, due to the nature of his oblivious imprisonment.[4]



Dae-su was born around 1959 and attended the Catholic Sangnok High School, from which he graduated in 1978. Dae-su witnessed classmate Lee Soo-ah having sex with her brother Woo-jin, which later he inadvertently spread as a rumour. The rumor caused Soo-ah to kill herself. He then became a businessman in Seoul and married Kim Ja-Hyun. The couple had a daughter, Yeun-Hee, who was born around 1985.

Dae-su became an alcoholic and often fought with his wife and neighbours. At the beginning of the film, he is in a police station after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly. His friend, Joo-Hwan, comes to the station and bails him out. They then go to a nearby phone box and Dae-su calls his wife and daughter. As it is his daughter's third birthday, he had bought her a pair of wings as a present. As he hands the phone over to Joo-Hwan, he disappears into the night and the camera pans over the neon-lit, rain soaked city. He later described meeting a man, who presumably knocks him unconscious and bundles him into a vehicle. This takes place somewhere around 1988.


Dae-su then awakes in a windowless cell, which is identical to a hotel room, a number of days later. It is a private jail, run by gangsters who imprison people for pay. He is kept in his room 24/7 and has no contact with the outside world; the only people he sees are the guards who come and put food through a hatch in the door. He is never told why he is there or how long he will be there and is fed only fried mandu. As he has only a television to keep him company, his mental health soon deteriorates and he begins hallucinating. He attempts suicide, but a gas which puts him into a state of unconsciousness is always pumped into the room before he can succeed.

Accepting that he will never be able to escape, in life or through death, he begins writing a list of people who he has wronged throughout his life and who could be responsible for his imprisonment. He also begins a workout routine and starts shadowboxing and punching an outline of a person on the wall. This appears to be his training regime so that he can take revenge on his jailer when and if he is released. He marks the years passed since his capture by tattooing himself.

While watching television, Dae-su discovers that his wife has been murdered and that he himself is the prime murder suspect. He then decides to escape, and begins tunneling through the wall using metal chopsticks. He eventually digs his way to the outside, but can only make a small hole in the wall before the gas comes flowing into his room. He then covers the hole by pushing his bed in front of it. This is his last memory before being hypnotised by a woman in his room.


It has been fifteen years since his imprisonment began, and he has been given a new suit and his prison diaries upon his release. On the rooftop, he meets a man who is about to commit suicide by jumping. Dae-su saves him, however, and insists he listens to his story. When the man begins his own story, Dae-su walks off and takes an elevator down to the ground floor. In the elevator, he sees a woman for the first time in fifteen years. He steals her sunglasses and possibly also tries to rape her or masturbate in front of her. As he leaves the building, the woman calls a policeman over, but the jumper then falls onto a parked car which allows him to escape. As he walks into the centre of town, he comes across a street gang, who call him a "dick shit". He notes this as a new word, as the television did not teach him swear words, and then takes the gang on in a brawl. He did this to find out if "fifteen years of imaginary training could be put to use: it could." While standing outside a shop, a homeless man approaches him and hands him a wallet and a mobile phone, but explains that he has no information. Dae-su then enters a nearby restaurant and orders an octopus from a chef he had seen on TV, Mi-do, claiming that he needs to eat something live. He chats with Mi-do, then receives a call from his former captor and soon passes out.

Dae-su awakens in Mi-do's apartment, having been brought home by her. He attempts to have sex with her as she uses the bathroom, but is fought off. He starts to leave, thinking he has done something unforgivable, but Mi-do sympathizes with him, having read his journals. Both discover that his daughter has been sent to foster parents (the Von Ljungberg family of Stockholm, Sweden). Dae-su resolves to find his former captor and after many tries, locates the restaurant that provided the fried dumplings during his imprisonment, following the delivery boy to his former prison. Once inside, Dae-su ambushes the warden and tortures him for information, using a claw hammer to pull his teeth out. The info includes tape recordings of his captor, his only spoken motive being, "Oh, Dae-su talks too much". Dae-su then fights his way out of the prison past hordes of guards, suffering several serious wounds before escaping.

After Dae-su collapses in the street, a stranger places him in a taxi, only to direct him to Mi-do's address and identify Dae-su by name, showing his face briefly, which Dae-su knows but cannot place, before the taxi leaves. The next day, the man, named Lee Woo-jin, reveals himself as Dae-su's kidnapper and offers him the chance to play a game, where he must discover Woo-jin's motives behind Dae-su's kidnapping. Mi-do will die if he fails, but if he succeeds, Woo-jin will kill himself. Later, Dae-su discovers he and Woo-jin briefly attended the same high school. During the investigation, Dae-su and Mi-do grow closer together and eventually become lovers. Chasing his memories, Dae-su remembers spying on Woo-jin's incestuous relationship with his sister, Soo-ah and, unaware of their genetic relationship, inadvertently spread the rumor before transferring to another school in Seoul. Eventually, the rumor grew to include a pregnancy, which may or may not have been real, leading to Soo-ah's death, assumed to have been a suicide by jumping from a bridge.

Dae-su confronts Woo-jin with the information and accuses Woo-jin of killing his own sister to cover up the scandal. Woo-jin instead gives Dae-su a final gift, a photo album containing Dae-su's family portrait. As Dae-su flips through the album, he witnesses his daughter grow older in the pictures, discovering that she is actually Mi-do. Woo-jin reveals that Dae-su's kidnapping, incarceration, the murder of his wife and the upbringing of his daughter were all orchestrated to cause Dae-su and Mi-do to commit incest. It is also revealed that hypnosis and post-hypnotic suggestion were involved with Dae-Su's imprisonment, and had been performed on Mi-Do as well, and that the warden, thought to have betrayed Woo-jin to Dae-su, was actually still under his payroll.

Horrified, Dae-su begs Woo-jin to conceal the secret from Mi-do, groveling for forgiveness before cutting out his own tongue and offering it to Woo-jin as a symbol of his silence. Woo-jin agrees to spare Mi-do from the traumatic knowledge and leaves Dae-su in his penthouse with the words "My sister and I loved each other despite everything. Can you two do the same?" As Woo-jin rides alone in the elevator, he is struck by the vivid memory of his sister's death, a suicide in which he was complicit, and shoots himself in the head. In the epilogue, Dae-su sits in a winter landscape, where he makes a deal with the same woman who had hypnotized him while imprisoned, asking for her help to allow him to forget the secret. She reads his story from a handwritten letter and, touched by his words, begins the hypnosis process, lulling him into unconsciousness. After an undisclosed period of time, Dae-su wakes up, the hypnotist gone, and stumbles about before finally meeting with Mi-do. They embrace, and Mi-do tells Dae-su that she loves him. As they hug, his broad smile slowly disappears into an odd expression, neither happy nor unhappy, bringing into question whether the hypnosis worked.


In the unofficial Indian adaptation of film, Zinda (2006), Dae-su is Balajeet Roy, played by Sanjay Dutt.[5][6] In the American remake, the main character is named Joe Doucett, played by Josh Brolin.

Critical response[edit]

The Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw described Oh Dae-su as having "a heftily built presence [and] massively ravaged and ruined face which in itself is fiercely expressive of unbearable, unassuageable emotion".[7] Time Out London called the Oh Dae-su of the early scenes "a drunken boor", but the man that he transforms into as "running the gamut from terrifying rage to abject degradation".[8] HMV's review of the film noted the incredible transformation of the character, stating "we’re with him every step of the way from drunken, obnoxious lout to bewildered, angry prisoner, to vengeful, bloodthirsty warrior".[9]