Oldboy (Chan-wook Park 2003)

30 05 2006

If you don’t know how great the Prince Charles cinema is yet, you really should go and find out. Only a hundred yards from the rain-streaked mascara and laddered tights of the overpriced tart that is Leicester Square, this wonder of a London landmark is quietly peddling the best films at amazing prices. For five of Her Majesty’s English pounds, not enough for a few crunchy sweets rattling around a polypropylene bag full of air in the looming, gaudy mutleyplexes so close by, last night you got a magazine, a free beer, and a film. That film was Oldboy. I love the Prince Charles.

Oldboy, meanwhile, is thoroughgoing bonkers. You may have heard the story, of a hapless husband and father imprisoned in mysterious circumstances for fifteen years, only to be released and presented with money, smart clothes, and a trail of clues to work out who his mysterious tormentor was.

You may even have heard of the shocking moments, such as the eating of a live octopus, a spot of interrogatory dentistry, or the final penance of a man who talks too much, involving a pair of ornamental scissors.

But no matter what you’ve heard, this amazing South Korean film manages to be completely unexpected. The first surprise is how funny it is – albeit generally very blackly – with our protagonist Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) shifting between dead-eyed violence and deadpan pratfall.

It’s also very stylish, but unobtrusively so. There’s a seamless drift into half-remembered hallucination when a subway train slides into an apartment, or the pregnant pause as Oh Dae-Su wields a claw hammer over a henchman’s head and a dotted line arrows down to the intended point of impact.

Possibly the highlight of the film is an extended long-take punch-up between Oh Dae-Su and countless goons in a cramped corridor that’s better value than the last two Matrixes and both Kill Bills combined. This culminates in a great joke that sums up Oh Dae-Su’s obession in his quest, and Oldboy the film’s heady mix of violence and humour.

This sequence is one of many that takes place in a confined space, lending the whole film a claustrophobic, stuffy air. As Oh Dae-Su’s nemesis taunts, the search for revenge has simply placed our befuddled antihero in “a bigger prison.”

Cleverly, the film is ambiguous about who is seeking revenge on who, and suggests that seeking revenge is never going to work out well for anyone, in possibly the most ambivalent ending you’ll ever see.

This thoughtful approach stands in stark contrast to western revenge films, which can often reward or redeem their antiheroes through the fulfilment of revenge fantasies. A stark contrast could be drawn with Payback (Brian Helgeland 1999), starring Mel Gibson as another sharp-suited, dead-eyed, casually-violent vengeance seeker. It’s almost impossible to imagine Gibson, or Clint Eastwood, or even a post-16 Blocks Bruce Willis, going through the range of emotion and debasement displayed by Min-sik Choi here.

The story is a bit knotted, and got a bit lost, as most films do, when internet searches got involved. It does go on a bit too. But these are minor quibbles in such a glorious, exuberant, funny, thought-provoking piece of filmmaking. Oldboy should be firmly added to the list of films exempt from remaking – instead enjoy the original and best in places like the Prince Charles. Ignore the flashy, empty promise of the multiplex peepshow and get your revenge served hot.


Gainful employment

30 05 2006

The hay fever is kicking in AND it's still raining so it must be spring! It was Clare’s birthday last Thursday. We went for a drink in Greenwich where the thickly-accented barman asked me if I was a musician. I said no, why? He said I looked like a musician. I was quite pleased with that. It wasn’t until I sat down that I realised he had been saying “student”.

Got the job. It involves doing admin work on a medical science journal, Trends in Unpronounceable Things, and seems to mainly consist of chasing academics for their articles. I start next week. Can't wait to be slightly less poor!

Current beard status:
Moustache: furry
Chin: fuzzy
Beard: light dusting
Sideburns: thick, tending to luxuriant

What a way to make a living

8 05 2006

Job interview tomorrow. I have shaved. This is a pity because I was rocking a moustache. It was part My Name Is Earl, part Pierce Brosnan in The Matador… well actually it was mostly just a bit ginger.

Me, sell out and get a nine-to-five? Wear a suit? Shave every day?
God I hope so. I am so bored of being skint. This month I’m off to All Tomorrow’s Parties and it’s Clare’s birthday. And what’s that, payroll chap? There’s been an error. Not to worry old man, happens to the best of us. What’s that? We won’t get our bonus this month?

Oh. Cheers for that.

And so, next month, when there are no festivals or birthdays that need to be paid for, I will be receiving two months of bonuses plus six days of Bank Holiday overtime. I suppose I’ll just have to blow it on another private jet.

Adventure Barbecue

8 05 2006

Been maintaining radio silence due to a busted-ass modem, but now I am back. In the interval, I have worked every single day of the bank holiday, won a competition on the radio, been to two gigs, and, er that’s about it.

Had a barbecue on Saturday to send off former cheerleader Jez back to America. Thursday was gloriously sunny, Friday was gloriously sunny, Saturday it pissed down. But were we put off? No! In true British style we just got on with it.

Jaqs, Freed and Elsa lashed plastic sheeting over the patio that was supplemented by later guests. I went halfway up a drainpipe to secure a sheet over the door and got soaked. But hey, way of the samurai, you get the same soaking if you walk down the middle of the street as if you scurry under the eaves.

By the evening there was a veritable shanty town of plastic keeping us dry – except for the occasional venting cascade of water over someone’s head. Coupled with the excitement of a rickety bench that could collapse anytime, an element of danger was added to proceedings. When the puddles above our heads grew too big we had to vent the water in a kind of shower-based version of Russian roulette.

Later on the rain stopped but the beer, bbq chicken and good times kept coming.

With grim inevitability, Sunday was lovely.