Oldboy. Really, what else is there to say? I write that Oldboy is one of my favourite films of the decade and your correct response should be, "Of course it is". A no brainer really. But I feel like drawing some pictures, so let's continue.
Chan-wook Park has created a whole new breed of revenge films with his Vengeance trilogy, starting with Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance then Oldboy and ending with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I love all 3 films but Oldboy was the obvious standout.
Loosely adapted from the manga Oldboy, Park actually improves on the source material making a stylish, smart and exciting morality tale. But be forewarned, it does get really nasty (it seems a lot of the films on my list have a tendency to be that way. What's wrong with me?). Imagine if Death Wish ended like it did in the novel (Bronson's Kersey character goes bonkers and has to be gunned down by police) and Oldboy's climax is about 20 times more depressing. There is no wish fulfillment here. Park even admits on the commentary track of the excellent Tartan tin edition, that he really doesn't respect much of what the main character does. He's selfish and petty until he finally learns the error of his ways... horrifically.
If you have not seen Oldboy (an error you should correct immediately) it does have a lot going for it despite it's nastiness. My lovely wife usually does not enjoy overly violent or mean spirited films, yet even she came away from the film calling it a masterpiece (I rented it very early in our dating period. I got lucky, it could have gone terribly wrong by the ending. Warning, this is not a date movie!).
The film is stylish, well acted and unpredictable, so if you're put off by the many critics who mention how violent or disturbing it is, there are enough amazing aspects of the film to risk viewing anything that you might consider distressing (and it is only a movie, it's not like going to the dentist or even getting a paper cut. Be a man!).
And no review of Oldboy would be complete without mentioning Min-sik Choi's masterful performance as Dae-su Oh. Dae starts off as a pathetic drunk in a scene that is shot differently than anything in the film. Dae is an overweight, sad and drunk businessman who is waiting at a police kiosk for a friend to come and get him. He gets obnoxiously loud and belligerent as he waits. Park uses mostly jump cuts as Dae becomes more and more agitated, as opposed to when he later becomes "the monster" when the film changes to apparently make him look "bad ass".
So the story goes, after he leaves the police kiosk and calls his daughter, Dae is kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years in a hotel room. He is never told the reason why and has no human contact. Once he has almost escaped he is knocked out and set free to discover the reason he was imprisoned. Dae is now the embodiment of vengeance. Where it goes from there I'll let you discover for yourself, I really hate giving away too much from a movie that is so plot oriented.
I wouldn't be shocked if Oldboy wound up on a lot of critics "best of the decade" lists. It's been highly praised since it's original release and the fanbase seems to be growing all the time. We narrowly missed an American remake directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Will Smith (and not the cool Will Smith who stars in Grave of the Vampire) but I'm sure there will be one eventually. If you want to be the cool kid watch the film now so you can tell all those phonies and losers what a winner you are since you've "seen the original" when the remake inevitably comes out. Then who'll be laughing? You, that's who!