A Sequence Exegesis: Oldboy

Oldboy, a South Korean mystery thriller directed by Park Chan-Wook is loosely adapted from the Japanese manga written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi.

The film embodies an emotional and psychological depth imbued with vengeance where the main character, Oh Dae-Su wakes up in a hotel styled prison. He has been trapped there for 15 years without knowing his captors motives nor identity. By watching television in the room, he learns that he is a prime suspect for his wife’s murder. When released, he seeks his captor to get revenge on his imprisonment.

In this particular scene, Lee Woo-Jin (Oh Dae-Su’s captor) recalls his sisters suicide. The editing technique used is cross cutting where it is divided by alternate jumps in time to establish continuity whilst creating one line of narrative. The flashback shows a moment in time where he struggles to hang on to his sister’s hand, who is hanging off a bridge.


The use of colour saturations and intentional grain contrast the bright colours between the two scenes represent the nature their life was and is in that period of time. Park finds the balance between method and story,  instilling purely emotional responses in his viewers through intense and compelling storylines.

It is framed from both perspectives, looking down at his sister where the background is a body of water surrounded by air, and a perspective from her where her brother is barricaded by the bridge wall leaning as much as he can to hold her up. By using the camera Lee Woo-Jin has around his neck, his sister grabs onto it, says her last few words and takes a photo of herself smiling. By viewing the scene through the viewfinder of the camera where she directly looks at the lens to take a photo, it frames a personal moment symbolising a moment in time captured forever.

The sounds of this scene include an melodic orchestra playing in a bitterly melancholic way to accompany the scene of heart breaking cries and a weak dialogue.

Although the scenes of the past show blue skies and white clouds on a sunny day, the mood makes the audience feel empathetic. When he let goes, the camera shows his arm where again it shows cross cutting. His hand turns into the shape of a gun where he motions to pull a trigger. It suddenly goes back into a gloomy dark present where an elevator door opens as a gun shot is heard, the sound of the orchestra is null and there is silence. All you can hear now is the metal banging from where he hit his head and a fall to the ground. The camera then slowly creeps out to show the body of the elevator, this camera technique makes the character grow smaller compared to the world around them, as if the camera is abandoning them, backing away and protecting ourselves from their pain. It then cuts to a slow push-in on a blood dripping sorrow face with a bullet hole to the head.

I think this excerpt is an important part of the film as it shows an intense emotional scene which changes the audiences view of a certain character that you had no remorse for initially. Park challenges explicit violence and creates symbolism in support of these narratives by using different film and sound techniques, such as the gun hand gesturing and the cutting of silence to emphasise a section of the scene. Instead of using depth, he uses modern aesthetics that foreground flat space, symmetric shot compositions and unmotivated camera movements (Sultan, 2014). By using these methods to tell a story, Park presents a poetic purpose not only through narrative but also by cinematography.



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