Now it Can Be Told
WARNING: FILM SPOILERS
Tonight I finished Chan-wook Park's 2003 Oldboy, which I characterize as a Hankook traginoir with elements of surrealism (attributable to noir) and fantasy. The comments at imdb.com alternate between excoriating Park and the film's writers for “pointless violence” and exalting the production team for creating something “unexpected” and “different.”
I believe the film is a triumph of artistic expression, the fashioning of a revenge fantasy tinged with themes of youthful prodigality, incestuous desire, and voyeuristic panopticism. What appear to be flaws in the plot are better understood as cinematic expressions of the unconscious impulses which govern the domains of death and sex. In this way, the apparent age difference between Dae-su Oh and Woo-jin Lee can also be read as a sign both of Dae-su's prison-cultivated monstrousness as well as a hint of a father-son relationship between the film's primary agonists. This view also reveals that (in this film) narrative development is the direct result of the fabrication of an environment that leads to incest.
In other words, Woo-jin Lee is a metonym for Park whose own narrative begins in incest. The critical ambivalence toward Oldboy, then, is familiar for it reflects the ambivalence Sophocles's Oedipus Rex inspires. Similarly, Oedipus also metonymizes—in the figure of Oedipus—the playwright's narrative production through the consummation of incest. Some hint of this metadiegetic connection is present in the oxymoronic title Oldboy, a name that suggests infantile desire, unheeded lessons, and lamentable destiny.
The title to this entry is an admission of the guilty addiction that has possessed me since 1997. I stopped lurking on 3:11 pm EST on 11 September 2000. Over the years, I've learned much by being a part of that community, but now trips to Slashdot maroon me on a techno-informational island while numbing my passion for narrative art. I'm reminded of the oft-misconstrued quotation ars longa, vita brevis, which signals the urgency and impossibility of mastering any craft.