The Netflix Violent Revenge Thriller Shocks At Every Turn

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

Ah, revenge thrillers—we all love them; and what’s not to love? They’re riveting, from Oedipus Rex to Kill Bill. And if you’re in the mood for a devilishly engaging labyrinth of vengeance, violence, and romance, then Oldboy, a revenge thriller streaming now on Netflix, awaits you.

Dae-su Is Out For Revenge In Oldboy

Make no mistake: the 2003 film–a South Korean production directed by Park Chan-wook–is a masterpiece. Adapted from an iconic Japanese manga, the movie relates the tale of Oh Dae-su (portrayed excellently by Choi Min-sik), a man imprisoned for 15 whole years in a hotel room.The reason? Neither Dae-su nor we know—at least not at first. What follows is Oldboy’s gritty, heart-stopping, relentlessly inventive tale of vengeance, all propelled by a whodunnit (more aptly, a wholockedthisguyinahotelfor15fyears) narrative engine, chugging along. 

Dae-Su’s Training

Sprung from his hotel room soon into the film, the narrative shoves Dae-su into a convoluted quest for sweet revenge, principally against his enigmatic captor, Law Woo-jin (played by Yoo Ji-Tae). Indeed, though locked in a room for a decade and a half without a clue as to why or by whom, Dae-su does learn a few things during his captivity. Namely (through watching TV) that his wife has been murdered and that, unfortunately, he’s the prime suspect. Steeped in understandable despair, mired in isolation, Oldboy’s Dae-su makes lemonade from abundant lemons, training himself in martial arts by converting his limited environs into a dojo.

Dae-Su’s New Partner: Mi-do

Abruptly sedated and hypnotized before being released, our hero finds himself stranded on a rooftop. After fighting off some thugs and receiving cash and a cell phone from an enigmatic homeless guy, Dae-su wanders into a sushi restaurant, where he meets Mi-do, a young sushi chef. She proves to be a sidekick and love interest, and the two form an odd, albeit touching, bond—teaming up to solve the mystery of Dae-su’s predicament at the heart of Oldboy. Soon, they’ve tailed a food delivery guy from another restaurant to the hotel where Dae-su was imprisoned. Here, the former prisoner tortures and interrogates the warden. 

The Hotel

The hotel, it’s revealed, is anything but; instead, the building functions as a private prison where the super-rich lock up those they deem dispensable. Dae-su then discovers the identity of his captor, a wealthy businessman, the abovementioned Lee Woo-jin. Woo-jin serves his victim a horrible ultimatum: discover the reason for his imprisonment in five days, or the businessman will murder Mi-do, the sushi chef. However, if Dae-su uncovers Woo-jin’s motive within five days, the latter will commit suicide. More intrigue, thrills, and excellent action sequences follow in Oldboy, as Dae-su avenges himself and commences a romance with Mi-do. It’s a masterpiece as emotionally gripping as it is aesthetically stunning, enriched by psychological depth and an admirable mediation on fate and the cyclical nature of violence. 

Memorable Shots

One of the film’s many highlights is an iconic single-shot fight scene in a corridor, celebrated globally for its choreographic brilliance and sheer intensity. Said scene actually took a whopping three days to film and perfect. The production time is more understandable when you consider the scene consists of one continuous take, totally lacking editing except for the brief moment Dae-su takes a knife to the back, which is computer-generated. Another memorable scene in Oldboy features Oh Dae-su eating a live octopus, half-crazed after being sprung from his hotel cell. The octopus, film fans should know, was real—one of four involved in filming the scene. The consumption of squirming octupi (termed san-nakji in Korean) is a regional delicacy. The octopi are usually slaughtered and not genuinely alive when consumed. Their movements instead result from posthumous nerve jitters coursing through the octopi’s tentacles. Yum! 

Global Recognition

best korean movie

Upon its release, Oldboy earned worldwide acclaim. It deservedly snagged the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The jury president that year, Quentin Tarantino, extolled the movie’s brilliance at length. Meanwhile, top-tier critics like Roger Ebert heaped praise on the film for credibly and compellingly exploring the human condition and demonstrating an enviable narrative and aesthetic excellence. Other critics pointed out the film’s inventive inversion of the revenge thriller genre. Audiences streaming the film today will undoubtedly be as struck by the movie’s blend of anguish, beauty, and raw vivacity as moviegoers were in 2003. Today, Oldboy is considered one of the best films ever made and enjoys a spot on many “best-of” lists, including the Empire list of the top 500 movies of all time and CNN’s list of the ten best Asian films ever made. A 2016 BBC poll of critics named it the 30th best film since 2000. 

Stream Oldboy Now On Netflix

The film also amounted to a financial success, in addition to a critical one. Against a three million dollar budget, it earned a much larger $17 billion globally. Not bad at all. Stream Oldboy on Netflix today.