Ho boy, oh boy, do I dislike Oldboy. Wasn't a big fan of Park Chan Woo's JSA either (too hysterically acted, too melodramatic, too much CGI), but this one really hit bottom for me. Ludicrous plot, spotty attention to detail (If you're going to imprison a man for fifteen years, wouldn't you consider taking out all breakable items? And how did they know he slit his wrists--a camera? But if they had a camera, why did they allow him to almost dig his way out?), too much resorting to lazy devices like knockout gas and hypnotism (both undependable, the former rather dangerous) to advance the story.
Park pulls off some interesting shots (a long take where the hero dispatches of twenty or so assailants with a claw hammer), shows a meal involving a deliciously live octopus (shocking table manners, though), and builds a nice circularity into the plot (revenge story turns out to be a different kind of revenge story), but really, the story's innermost secret (SPOILERS) doesn't seem like such of a big deal, especially in these desensitized times; definitely not a reason to lose a body part or that much of one's dignity over--I mean, Park has read (or heard of) Oedipus, I'm sure, but hasn't he read Oedipus at Colonus? Sometimes you can reconcile yourself with your sins, without the need for yet more hypnotism.
Choi Min Sik, incidentally, is winning all kinds of praise and an acting award here that he never earned in the far superior Happy End, and I've got mixed feelings about that. He carries the movie better than it has any right to be carried--puts a sad-eyed conviction into every hammer blow and chaw of tentacle--but I still remember his more persuasively anguished husband in the previous film. No cartoonish violence there; his dilemma and the suffering it provoked was heartbreaking.
Oldboy's of a genre that isn't to everybody's taste--shock cinema--and something I watch wondering more and more why the hell I keep watching (for the sex and violence, stupid). With sloppy Korean filmmakers like these provoking so much praise and relatively little protest, I'm also wondering what the case is against Kim Ki Duk; he tells stories that are far more coherent and psychologically plausible (relatively speaking), his characters display a becoming reserve (Park likes to shove his obsessions up your right nostril), and he has an eye for the beauty found in a shocking or transgressive image.