Old Boy - Park Chan-Wook - Korea 2003
Tyneside Film Theatre 29 Oct 04 Ticket £5-95
The final shot of Old Boy, over which the end titles roll, seemed to me to be an entity detached from the rest of the film. The camera pans across a huge snow covered mountain ridge and stops at a gap through the mountains. The shot, suggesting space or the possibility of space on the other side of the ridge, stands apart from the rest of film which is shot in urban confines, in ‘any space whatever’ where we rarely see the whole picture or any place that in itself is culturally coded(in the way New York Paris or Tokyo are iconically tagged). Old Boy action takes place and moves through ‘cross sectional space’ - interior sets bounded by wallpaper(lots of fine wallpapered surfaces) plaster, glass, mirrors and exterior locations set on streets with anonymous urban vistas. Sets that are defined by the coordinates of intimacy and detachment rather than geography or building plans.
Old Boy shot by Park in ‘anywhere space’ ends up somewhere. In the mountains with a shot that moves slowly across a complete ridge coming to rest at an opening through the rocks through which we can see into the distance perhaps into the future.
At some point during this pan (during which most of the audience leave) I see a credit for the New Zealand crew. New Zealand……I’m surprised. Of course any space whatever can be shot wherever: these mountains were New Zealand. I am thinking that they are probably located on the South Island - the setting for the Lord of the Rings movies. There are all sorts of cinematic referencings burrowing through Old Boy - spot them for yourself - but does this last and final referencing event by the camera point directly to a ironical metaphysical juxtapositioning of the two films?
Both Lord of the Rings and Old Boy have a metaphysical imperative as an engine that drives them as respective filmic assemblages. The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy realised and heightened through digital technology. Old Boy uses parody as a stylistic expressive medium but counterweights the distancing effects of parody by grounding the film in the physicality of its protagonist Oh Dai-Su, brilliantly played by Choi Min-Sik in a performance that calls out to de Nero’s in Taxi Driver. LoR explores as a simplistic metaphysic, the battle between the forces of good and evil - forces that seem defined in terms of race and culture. LoR in closing with the triumph of the forces of the Shires is moral tale attuned to the nutritional requirements by the nursery for simple easily digested food.
Old Boy operates on a metaphysical plane that is personal and built on a mythic foundation overlaid with a recasting of familiar Judaic-Christian psycho religious psychological states. It’s formal parody but the visceral and immediate nature of its imagery at critical moments heighten understanding of the processes at work(Dai-su’s use of chop sticks to dig his way out of his prison cell). In the course of the action which begins( in fact there is a strange double start) with the proposition of a man locked up fifteren years in a prison for reasons that are not explained to him, Park and Choi plot out the dynamic overlayering of Judaic/Christian psycho religious concepts - guilt and atonement - onto an oriental psychic and mythic code. It is an overlayering that energises the film with the paraschizo fuel that burns through all the world. There is no space left - only time zones. As Western culture disperses, it melds and merges with other forms to create new twisted hyrid social types.
Incest is the key myth underlying Old Boy, the Oriental version of the taboo not the Western. In the Hellenic story of Oedipus, mother /son liaison is the forbidden relationship. The East, such as the Japanese myth of Amaterasu and Susanoo, favours the story of the forbidden nature of the brother / sister relationship. It is the oriental dynamic of forbidden incestuous relationships between brother and sister and the consequent terrible sense of shame(attached to public revelation) that works through Old Boy. Drawing on a mythic wellspring the protagonist of Old Boy, Dai-su journeys across a metaphysical plane impelled by the need the understand his condition - why me. The temporal imperatives of TV, mobile phones, constant incessant monitoring, glass and mirrors are devices that collapse the coordinates of space. Ideas of far and near are delusions in a world where you are never nearer an event than when you believe yourself distant from it. Answers to questions sought in the quest lie in crossing time not space. Far and near, near and far are not oppositional ideas but collusive spatial contractions.
Time is now a personal journey rather than a collectively experienced history. Dai-su has assimilated a Judaic-Christian ethos into the machinery for coping with the demands of individual time travel. Dai-su in his quest for the answer moves through the idea of revenge into the processes of forgetting and remembering that lead to awareness of his own personal guilt. Perhaps his own personal guilt is a state he always knew but had to forget but whose recognition could only be followed by penance expiation and redemption. Personal redemption - the shot of the gap through the mountains of New Zealand.
Park has a story to tell ( and at the end of Old Boy Dai-su also has a story to tell but part of the story is that he is unable to tell the story) of how East meets West - how cultures and societies fuse schizoid responses to this mergeance. The story encapsulated in the strange form taken by the title in the title sequence where the titles appear first as a sort of computer encrypted script that resolves briefly into legible characters before morphing back into a cipher. Drawing on visually skewed references to Bunuel Tarrentino Goddard Scorcese etc Park tells how it is with a sure understanding of what this global contraction implies for all of us.
Adrin Neatrour 6 11 04