Oldboy (2003 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Revised Romanization Oldeuboi
McCune–Reischauer Oldŭboi
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Produced by Im Seung-yong
Kim Dong-joo
Written by Hwang Jo-yoon
Im Joon-hyeong
Park Chan-wook
Based on Old Boy
by Garon Tsuchiya
Nobuaki Minegishi
Starring Choi Min-sik
Yoo Ji-tae
Kang Hye-jung
Music by Jo Yeong-wook
Cinematography Chung Chung-hoon
Edited by Kim Sang-bum
Show East
Egg Films
Distributed by Show East (KR)
Tartan Films (US/UK)
Release date
Running time
120 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean
Budget US$3 million
Box office $15 million[1]

Oldboy (Hangul올드보이; RROldeuboi; MROldŭboi) is a 2003 South Korean mystery thriller neo-noir film directed by Park Chan-wook. It is based on the Japanese manga of the same name written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya. Oldboy is the second installment of The Vengeance Trilogy, preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and followed by Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

The film follows the story of Oh Dae-su, who is imprisoned in a cell which resembles a hotel room for 15 years without knowing the identity of his captor or his captor's motives. When he is finally released, Dae-su finds himself still trapped in a web of conspiracy and violence. His own quest for vengeance becomes tied in with romance when he falls in love with an attractive young female sushi chef.

The film won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and high praise from the President of the Jury, director Quentin Tarantino. Critically, the film has been well received in the United States, with an 80% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[2] Film critic Roger Ebert stated that Oldboy is a "powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare".[3] In 2008 voters on CNN named it one of the ten best Asian films ever made.[4]

An American remake with the same title was released in 2013. It was directed by Spike Lee.


In 1988, a businessman named Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is arrested for drunkenness, missing his daughter's 4th birthday. After his friend Joo-hwan (Ji Dae-han) retrieves him from the police station, they go to a phone booth for Dae-su to call home. While Joo-hwan is talking to Dae-su's wife, Dae-su is kidnapped, and wakes up in a sealed hotel room where food is delivered through a trap-door. By watching the television, Dae-su learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect. Dae-su passes the time shadow-boxing, planning revenge, and attempting to dig a tunnel to escape.

In 2003, 15 years after he was imprisoned, and just before digging himself to freedom, Dae-su is hypnotized and wakes up on a roof-top with a suit. After interacting with a jumper on the rooftop, Dae-Su tests his fighting skills on a group of young thugs and is mysteriously handed a cell phone and money by a beggar. He receives a taunting phone call from his captor, who refuses to explain the reason for his imprisonment. Later he collapses at a sushi restaurant and is taken in by Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), the restaurant's young chef. After he recovers, Dae-su tries to find his daughter and the location of his prison. He discovers that his daughter was adopted by a Swedish couple, and gives up trying to contact her. Dae-su locates the Chinese restaurant which made food for his prison, and finds the prison by following a delivery man. Apparently it is a private prison where people can pay to have others incarcerated. Dae-su enters the prison and tortures the warden, Mr Park, who doesn't know the identity of Dae-su's captor but reveals that Dae-su was imprisoned for "talking too much." While leaving the prison, Dae-su is attacked by a large number of guards but manages to defeat all of them.

Dae-su's captor, a wealthy man named Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), contacts Dae-su again and gives him the following ultimatum: if Dae-su discovers the motive for his imprisonment within 5 days, then Woo-jin will kill himself. Otherwise, Woo-jin will kill Mi-do. As Dae-su and Mi-do become intimate, they have sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, Joo-hwan tries to contact Dae-su with some important information about Woo-jin's sister, but is murdered by Woo-jin, who was secretly following him. Dae-su eventually recalls that he and Woo-jin had gone to the same high school, and that he had witnessed Woo-jin committing incest with his own sister. After Dae-su told his classmates about the event, Woo-jin's sister committed suicide, leading Woo-jin to hate Dae-su. Back in the present day, Woo-jin cuts off Mr Park's hand, fulfilling an earlier threat by Dae-su, causing Mr Park and his gang to (seemingly) join forces with Dae-su. Dae-su leaves Mi-do with Mr. Park and leaves to face Woo-jin.

At Woo-jin's pent-house, Dae-su is beaten badly by Woo-jin's personal guard, until Woo-jin intervenes, killing his own guard. Dae-su apologizes for driving Woo-jin's sister to suicide, upon which Woo-jin reveals the truth, that Mi-do is Dae-su's daughter. Woo-jin had arranged their meeting by using hypnosis to guide Dae-su into the sushi restaurant, hoping that they would fall in love, so that Dae-su might experience the same pain which Woo-jin had. Woo-jin proceeds to threaten to tell the truth to Mi-do, who is being held by Mr. Park in his new prison. Dae-su begs him not to, and when Woo-jin is unswayed, Dae-su cuts out his own tongue as a symbol of penance. Woo-jin accepts Dae-su's pleading, and tells Mr Park to keep the truth from Mi-do. Woo-jin then boards the elevator, recalls the events of his sister's suicide, and shoots himself in the head. In the aftermath of the event, Dae-su finds the hypnotist from the prison to erase his knowledge of Mi-do being his daughter, so that they can stay together and have a nice relationship. Mi-do then finds Dae-su and embraces him. Dae-su breaks into a wide smile, which is then slowly replaced by a look of pain, bringing into question whether the hypnosis worked.


Choi Min-sik played the lead role as Oh Dae-su
  • Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su; he has been imprisoned for about 15 years. Choi Min-sik lost and gained weight for his role depending on the filming schedule, trained for six weeks and did most of his stunt work.
  • Yoo Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin: The man behind Oh Dae-su's imprisonment. Park Chan-wook's ideal choice for Woo-jin had been actor Han Suk-kyu, who previously played a rival to Choi Min-sik in Shiri and No. 3. Choi then suggested Yoo Ji-tae for the role, despite Park's reservation about his youthful age.[5]
  • Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do: Dae-su's love interest.
  • Ji Dae-han as No Joo-hwan: Dae-su's friend and the owner of an internet café.
  • Kim Byeong-ok as Mr. Han: Bodyguard of Woo-jin.
  • Oh Tae-kyung as young Dae-su
  • Ahn Yeon-seok as young Woo-jin
  • Woo Il-han as young Joo-hwan
  • Yoon Jin-seo as Lee Soo-ah, Woo-jin's sister.
  • Oh Dal-su as Park Cheol-woong, the private prison's manager.


The corridor fight scene took seventeen takes in three days to perfect and was one continuous take; there was no editing of any sort except for the knife that was stabbed in Oh Dae-su's back, which was computer-generated imagery.

Other computer-generated imagery in the film includes the ant coming out of Dae-su's arm (according to the making-of on the DVD the whole arm was CGI) and the ants crawling over him afterwards. The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. The eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for Choi, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.

The final scene's snowy landscape was filmed in New Zealand. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, and the audience is left with several questions: specifically, how much time has passed, if Dae-Su's meeting with the hypnotist really took place, whether he successfully lost the knowledge of Mi-do's identity, and whether he will continue his relationship with Mi-do. In an interview with Park (included with the European release of the film), he says that the ambiguous ending was deliberate and intended to generate discussion; it is completely up to each individual viewer to interpret what isn't shown.


Critical response[edit]

Oldboy received generally positive reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 80% based on 133 reviews. The site's consensus is "Violent and definitely not for the squeamish, Park Chan-Wook's visceral Oldboy is a strange, powerful tale of revenge."[6] Metacritic gives the film an average score of 74 out of 100, based on 31 reviews.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars. Ebert remarked: "We are so accustomed to 'thrillers' that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it's a shock to find a movie in which the action, however violent, makes a statement and has a purpose."[3] James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three out of four stars, saying that it "isn't for everyone, but it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers."[8]

Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com praised the film, calling it "anguished, beautiful, and desperately alive" and "a dazzling work of pop-culture artistry."[9] Peter Bradshaw gave it 5/5 stars, commenting that this is the first time in which he could actually identify with a small live octopus. Bradshaw summarizes his review by referring to Oldboy as "cinema that holds an edge of cold steel to your throat."[10] David Dylan Thomas points out that rather than simply trying to "gross us out", Oldboy is "much more interested in playing with the conventions of the revenge fantasy and taking us on a very entertaining ride to places that, conceptually, we might not want to go."[11] Sean Axmaker of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave Oldboy a score of "B-", calling it "a bloody and brutal revenge film immersed in madness and directed with operatic intensity," but felt that the questions raised by the film are "lost in the battering assault of lovingly crafted brutality."[12]

MovieGazette lists 10 features on its "It's Got" list for Oldboy and summarizes its review of Oldboy by saying, "Forget ‘The Punisher’ and ‘Man on Fire’ – this mesmerising revenger’s tragicomedy shows just how far-reaching the tentacles of mad vengeance can be." MovieGazette also comments that it "needs to be seen to be believed."[13] Jamie Russell of the BBC movie review calls it a "sadistic masterpiece that confirms Korea's current status as producer of some of the world's most exciting cinema."[14] Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gave a lukewarm review, saying that "there is not much to think about here, outside of the choreographed mayhem."[15] J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader was also not impressed, saying that "there's a lot less here than meets the eye."[16]

In 2008, Oldboy was placed 64th on an Empire list of the top 500 movies of all time.[17] It was ranked #18 in the same magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[18] In a 2016 BBC poll, critics voted the film the 30th greatest since 2000.[19]

Oedipus the King inspiration[edit]

Chan-wook stated that he named the main character Oh Daesu "to remind the viewer of Oedipus."[20] In one of the film's iconic shots, Yoo Ji-tae, who played Woo-jin, strikes an extraordinary yoga pose. Park Chan-wook said he designed this pose to convey "the image of Apollo." [21] It was Apollo's prophecy that revealed Oedipus' fate in Sophocles' Oedipus the King. The link to Oedipus Rex is only a minor element in most English-language criticism of the movie. Koreans have made it a central theme. Sung Hee Kim wrote "Family seen through Greek tragedy and Korean movie -- Oedipus the King and Old Boy." [22] Kim Kyungae offers a different analysis, with Dae-su and Woo-jin both representing Oedipus.[23] Besides the theme of unknown incest revealed, Oedipus gouges his eyes out to avoid seeing a world that despises his truth, while Oh Daesu cuts out his tongue to avoid revealing the truth to his world.

Box office performance[edit]

In South Korea, the film was seen by 3,260,000 filmgoers and it ranks fifth place for the highest-grossing film of 2003.[24]

It grossed a total of US$14,980,005 worldwide.[1]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Asia Pacific Film Festival Best Director Park Chan-wook Won
Best Actor Choi Min-sik Won
Austin Film Critics Association Best Film Nominated
Best Foreign Film Won
Bangkok International Film Festival Best Film Nominated
Best Director (tied with Christophe Barratier for Les Choristes) Park Chan-wook Won
Belgian Film Critics Association[25] Grand Prix Won
Bergen International Film Festival[26] Audience Award Won
Blue Dragon Film Awards[27] Best Director Park Chan-wook Won
Best Actor Choi Min-sik Won
Best Supporting Actress Kang Hye-jung Won
British Independent Film Awards[28] Best Foreign Independent Film Won
Cannes Film Festival[29] Palme d'Or Nominated
Grand Prix Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Award Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Director's Cut Awards Best Director Park Chan-wook Won
Best Actor Choi Min-sik Won
Best Producer Kim Dong-joo Won
European Film Awards[30] Best Non-European Film Park Chan-wook Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Foreign Action Trailer (tied with District 13) Won
Grand Bell Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Park Chan-wook Won
Best Actor Choi Min-sik Won
Best New Actress Kang Hye-jung Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Park Chan-wook Nominated
Best Cinematography Chung Chung-hoon Nominated
Best Editing Kim Sang-bum Won
Best Art Direction Ryu Seong-hee Nominated
Best Lighting Park Hyun-won Won
Best Music Jo Yeong-wook Won
Best Visual Effects Lee Jeon-hyeong, Shin Jae-ho, Jeong Do-an Nominated
Hong Kong Film Awards Best Asian Film Won
Korean Film Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Park Chan-wook Won
Best Actor Choi Min-sik Won
Best Actress Kang Hye-jung Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Yoon Jin-seo Nominated
Best Cinematography Chung Chung-hoon Nominated
Best Editing Kim Sang-bum Nominated
Best Art Direction Ryu Seong-hee Nominated
Best Music Jo Yeong-wook Won
Best Sound Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Action or Adventure Film Nominated
Best DVD or Blu-ray Special Edition Release Ultimate Collector's Edition Nominated
Sitges Film Festival Best Film Won
José Luis Guarner Critic's Award Won
Stockholm International Film Festival Audience Award Won

Differences from the manga[edit]

  • The manga, which precedes the film, is considerably tamer and less violent. No one dies in the manga except Lee Woo-jin's counterpart, Takaaki Kakinuma, also by a self-inflicted gunshot on the temple.
  • Oh Dae-su is significantly different from Shinichi Goto, his manga counterpart. Goto is considerably less tormented than Dae-su; Goto is remarkably calm and stoic, even during his captivity, unlike Dae-su. Also, Goto is a towering man in peak physique at the time of his release in his 30s; Dae-su is also in peak physique, though smaller and appearing to be at least in his late forties; Goto was imprisoned for ten years, while Dae-su was imprisoned for fifteen. Goto, unlike Dae-Su, seems rather uninterested in pursuing Kakinuma's ruse through the means of violence, instead initially opting to pursue a peaceful life; his pursuit of his captors is not driven by vengeance, but rather by curiosity, though he is later lured by Kakinuma into their conflict.
  • Mi-Do's counterpart Eri is not Shinichi Goto's daughter, as Mi-Do is with Oh Dae-Su. Eri was hypnotically lured to Goto just as a means of surveillance and to burden Goto. As a result, Goto and his allies move her out of Kakinuma's reach so she does not become a target.
  • Oh Dae-Su and Lee Woo-jin's former schoolmate No Joo-hwan's counterpart, Tsukamoto, is a professional acquaintance of Shinichi Goto, and is not introduced to Lee Woo-jin's counterpart, Takaaki Kakinuma until later in the story. Tsukamoto, a bartender, unlike No Joo-hwan, who runs an internet cafe, survives the ordeal.
  • Kakinuma, unlike Lee Woo-jin in the film, is not successful in his ruse against Goto; in fact, he is unable to break and ruin Goto and his tactics ultimately fail miserably. The reasons for kidnapping and imprisoning Goto and Oh Dae-su respectively are also completely different: Goto unknowingly shattered Kakinuma's self-esteem and left him emotionally scarred for life by feeling pity for him and openly crying in music class when he realized Kakinuma's loneliness in the manga; Dae-su witnessed Woo-jin's incestuous relationship with his own sister and created a rumor that resulted in the latter's suicide. Kakinuma, unlike Woo-jin, has no relatives to speak of.
  • Albeit victorious against Kakinuma, Goto is left plagued by hypnotic episodes at the end of the manga which worries him about Eri, who was still vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion, as the hypnotist found her to be mentally locked by Kyoko Kataoka, Kakinuma's "assistant"; Goto does not know to what extent they have been hypnotized or whether there might be any repercussions to the manipulation that could cause them self or mutual harm. On the other hand, Oh Dae-Su is left presumably emotionally crippled and mute and his ultimate fate is left unknown.
  • Mr. Han's counterpart is an unnamed "Secret Service" agent that reports directly to Kakinuma and directs his surveillance operations targeting Goto. He later turns against Kakinuma as he finds his harassing of Goto rather pointless.
  • Many major and minor characters in the manga do not have a counterpart in the film, such as Yayoi Kusama, Goto and Kakinuma's 6th grade teacher turned novelist, to whom Kakinuma entrapped to document the conflict; Kyoko Kataoka, Kakinuma's "assistant" and lastly, Kakinuma's "Referee".


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Oldboy
OldBoy OST Cover.jpg
Soundtrack album by Jo Yeong-wook
Released 9 December 2003 (2003-12-09)
Recorded 2003 Seoul
Genre Contemporary classical
Length 60:00
Label EMI Music Korea Ltd.
Producer Jo Yeong-wook
Shim Hyeon-jeong
Lee Ji-soo
Choi Seung-hyun

Nearly all the music cues that are composed by Shim Hyeon-jeong, Lee Ji-soo and Choi Seung-hyun are titled after films, many of them film noirs.

Track listing
No. Title Length
1. "Look Who's Talking" (opening song) 1:41
2. "Somewhere in the Night" 1:29
3. "The Count of Monte Cristo" 2:34
4. "Jailhouse Rock" 1:57
5. "In a Lonely Place" (Oh Dae-su's theme) 3:29
6. "It's Alive" 2:36
7. "The Searchers" 3:29
8. "Look Back in Anger" 2:11
9. ""Vivaldi" – Four Seasons Concerto Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, "L'inverno" (Winter)" 3:03
10. "Room at the Top" 1:36
11. "Cries and Whispers" (Lee Woo-jin's theme) 3:32
12. "Out of Sight" 1:00
13. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" 2:45
14. "Out of the Past" 1:25
15. "Breathless" (Lee Woo-jin's theme [reprise]) 4:21
16. "The Old Boy" (Oh Dae-su's theme [reprise]) 3:44
17. "Dressed to Kill" 2:00
18. "Frantic" 3:28
19. "Cul-de-Sac" 1:32
20. "Kiss Me Deadly" 3:57
21. "Point Blank" 0:27
22. "Farewell, My Lovely" (Lee Woo-jin's theme [reprise]) 2:47
23. "The Big Sleep" 1:34
24. "The Last Waltz" (Mi-do's theme) 3:23
Total length: 60:00


Oldboy (2003)
Zinda (2006)
Oldboy (2013)
Choi Min-sik Sanjay Dutt Josh Brolin
Kang Hye-jung Lara Dutta Elizabeth Olsen
Yoo Ji-tae John Abraham Sharlto Copley

Controversy over Zinda[edit]

Zinda, the Bollywood film directed by writer-director Sanjay Gupta, also bears a striking resemblance to Oldboy but is not an officially sanctioned remake. It was reported in 2005 that Zinda was under investigation for violation of copyright. A spokesman for Show East, the distributor of Oldboy, said, "If we find out there's indeed a strong similarity between the two, it looks like we'll have to talk with our lawyers."[31]

American film remake[edit]

Steven Spielberg originally intended to make a version of the movie starring Will Smith in 2008. He commissioned screenwriter Mark Protosevich to work on the adaptation. Spielberg pulled out of the project in 2009.[32]

An American remake directed by Spike Lee was released on November 27, 2013.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Oldboy (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  2. ^ "Consensus of Oldboy reviews". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "Ebert review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  4. ^ "CNN: 'Himala' best Asian film in history – INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos". Showbizandstyle.inquirer.net. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  5. ^ Cine21 Interview about Park's revenge trilogy; 27 April 2007.
  6. ^ "Oldboy Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  7. ^ "Oldboy (2005): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS interactive. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  8. ^ Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews.
  9. ^ Stephanie Zacharek (March 25, 2005). "Thunder out of Korea". Salon.com. 
  10. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (2004-10-15). "Film of the week: Oldboy". The Guardian. London. 
  11. ^ amctv.com. "Oldboy". Filmcritic.com. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  12. ^ Sean Axmaker (April 21, 2005). "'Oldboy' story of revenge is beaten down by its own brutality". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  13. ^ "Oldboy - Movie Review". Movie-gazette.com. 2004-10-24. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  14. ^ Jamie Russell (2004-10-08). "Films - Old Boy". BBC. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  15. ^ Review by Manohla Dargis, New York Times.
  16. ^ Review by J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader.
  17. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  18. ^ "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema". Empire. 
  19. ^ "The 21st century's 100 greatest films". BBC. August 23, 2016. Retrieved November 8, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Sympathy for the Old Boy... An Interview with Park Chan Wook" by Choi Aryong
  21. ^ ": IKONEN : Interview Park Chan Wok Old Boy Lady Vengeance JSA Choi Aryong". Ikonenmagazin.de. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  22. ^ "그리스비극과 한국영화를 통해 본 가족 - 드라마연구 - 한국드라마학회 : 전자저널 논문". :. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  23. ^ "〈올드보이〉에 나타난 여섯 개의 이미지 - 문학과영상 - 문학과영상학회 : 전자저널 논문". :. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  24. ^ Korean Movie Reviews for 2003: Save the Green Planet, Memories of Murder, A Tale of Two Sisters, Old Boy, Silmido, and more
  25. ^ Denis, Fernand (10 January 2005). "La victoire de "Poulpe fiction"". La Libre Belgique (in French). Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  26. ^ "Awards (2004)". Bergen International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 13 February 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  27. ^ Cinemasie.com
  28. ^ "Winners (2004)". The British Independent Film Awards. Archived from the original on 7 April 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  29. ^ "All The Awards (2004)". Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original on 30 November 2006. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  30. ^ "The Nominations (2004)". The European Film Awards. Archived from the original on 9 December 2006. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  31. ^ Oldboy Makers Plan Vengeance on Zinda, TwitchFilm.
  32. ^ Kate Aurthur (2013-11-30). "Adapting "Oldboy": Its Screenwriter Talks About Twists And Spoilers". Buzzfeed.com. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  33. ^ "Spike Lee Confirmed to Direct 'Oldboy'". /Film. 2011-07-11. 

External links[edit]