Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Oldboy is a Korean film released in 2004 which shot to fame when it was awarded the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

This movie just blew my mind. Indian film buffs may know this as the movie on which the Sajay Dutt - John Abraham starrer 'Zinda' was based. In fact, the makers of Zinda were later sued by the makers of 'Oldboy' for copyright infringement. Makes you wish the international film industries would take closer looks at many more of our movies - getting sued for stealing other people's ideas is a known incentive for originality!

But just forget about Zinda, even though it was a fairly competent remake (authorized or not). The original is in a class by itself. There is violence in this story, sometimes very much in its gory, physical form. But more often the violence is all in the mind - and that is perhaps more brutal. Oldboy is based on a Japanese manga of the same name. There is though nothing comic about this movie. This movie is part of The Vengeance Trilogy, three films made by the director Park Chan-wook, all of which center around the idea of revenge. I feel some of Quentin Tarantino's sequences from the Kill Bill movies may well have been inspired by this movie. Quentin is known to be a huge fan of 'Oldboy' and was actually the head of the Cannes Festival jury which awarded the Grand Prix to this movie in 2004, which is the second most prestigious award at the Cannes Fest. Quentin failed to persuade the jury to give it the Palme D'Or instead, which went that year to 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.
The movie begins with Oh Daesu (Choi Min-Sik) who has been picked up by the cops for being drunk as a skunk. He comes across as a bit of a mischief-maker and definitely cant hold his drink. His friend finally gets him out of police custody, but Oh Daesu vanishes from the face of the earth before he can get home to his wife and daughter. He is kidnapped and held in a prison of-sorts, where he is kept for 15 years, without even being told why he is being kept there or who is responsible for his incarceration. Oh Daesu spends the time wondering what he could have ever done so wrong as to deserve the punishment he seems to be getting. And also planning revenge on his tormentor. Then suddenly one day, he is free. All he needs to do now, is figure out who was responsible for his 15 year sentence, and why!

As I mentioned before, there is violence. Gritty, raw, savage violence which seems too uncomfortably real. There are twists in this story that are quite shocking and surprising. Its one of the most inventive thrillers i have ever seen, besides being one of those rare films which stay in your minds long after its over. Perhaps the original manga has all the twists in it already, or maybe the director and writers got together and brainstormed this brilliance out - i dont know. But the movie is definitely one of the most powerful depictions of the brutality that humans are capable of. The movie seems to really begin only after Daesu has been set free. He now has a single mission, to find out why and by who he had been imprisoned. But as the viewer gradually finds out, things are just not what they seem. The director forces you to reconsider your initial perceptions at various stages of the movie.

There are so many sequences in the movie which grab you by the throat. This film demands attention, and earns it. A sequence where Daesu single-handedly takes on about 30 of his erstwhile captors, may sound like the run-of-the-mill action thriller scene, where the super-invincible Rambo-like hero takes on much more than a normal person would be capable of. But here, this scene changes into something much more basic, primordial. Imagine a lone wolf surrounded by a gaggle of hyenas. The wolf may be hurt badly, but its fierceness may still give it an edge over the hyenas.

This is definitely a movie for the strong hearted. But its also a movie so original, and makes such a powerful statement about the beastliness of humanity, that it deserves a much larger audience. In addition, there are performances in this movie which blow the mind away.

There are few movies which deserve 5 stars, Oldboy definitely gets 4.5 stars from me. I take away the half star for the final clash between Oh Daesu and his tormentor which, only in hindsight, feels like a bit of a compromise.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Where have I been???

So February 2008 goes down as one long, weird month. Doesnt time just take its own sweet time going by? Its been a month of two parts - one small totally fun time when we went down to Hyderabad for my cousins wedding. One week of complete fun. Lotsa drinks, lotsa time with my son, watching him at his wonderful, funny, sometimes maddening, but always adorable antics. The rest of the month was just a long lonely time as my wife and son had to go to Mumbai due to an emergency with my ma-in-law.

Lets just talk about the fun week. This was my son's first long train journey, as we decided to cut costs by going to Hyd by train. It was fun to see him curious about everything. Its amazing that he doesnt feel the airport is anything special anymore, but the train station is full of wonder! And he is probably the biggest fan of the movie 'Taare Zameen Par' ! We saw the movie on the first day of its release, and usually he just goes to sleep by around the half-way mark. But this movie, with Ishaan playing an adorable but naughty kid seems to catch his fancy completely. My son has memorized practically every line from the first half of the movie - and is happy enough to repeat it for us at all times!! So in the train, when he was lying down with me on the berth, suddenly he turns to me and says - "Akela ghoom raha tha! Road pe! Look at your guts, daddy bhi nahi hai. Tujhe kuch ho jaata toh!" I couldnt stop laughing as he played out the entire scene between Ishaan and his brother Yohaan, repeating the dialogues where Ishaan begs his brother to write an absent note for him!! And he is not 3 yrs old yet! Its so funny and cute to see him try to say the dialogues and stumbling over some of the words.

Then at the wedding and the reception, he got so much space to run around that he kept everyone on their toes. One of my uncles volunteered to take him out for a little walkabout, probably seeing me and my wife frustrated with trying to keep up with our son. After a while, we looked out a window and saw my uncle running around in circles after him! Spreading the fun all around!

We Bengalis have funny marriages. I mean some of the rituals are a bit weird. Now dont go thinking Apocalypto, pulling out peoples hearts, animal sacrifice kind of weird. One of the weird rituals is that on the second night of the marriage, the groom and the bride should not even see each other from 6 in the evening till 6 AM next day. This is known as the Kaal Raatri (literally the next night).

So, my cousin - the groom - trying to get rid of his gloom, decided to come down to my hotel room for the night. My wife gave company to the bride, and of course my son stays wherever his mom is. Me and my cousin watched 'Michael Clayton" first, and then decided this is a good time to get drunk. And man, we got blown out of our minds drinking scotch all night! The two of us got through an entire litre of scotch that night. I couldnt stop laughing when, after 3-4 drinks, he says - "This Kaal Ratri is not so bad, dada"!!

All in all, a pretty cool time down in Hyderabad.