An Informal Review of Sun Jung’s Korean Masculinities, Part 4, Or Who Are You Calling a Cult?

So now I’m going to tackle Sun Jung’s analysis of fan reaction to Chan-wook Park’s film, Oldboy.  Basically, Sun Jung argues that, well, I’ll let her explain it:

Chapter 4 focuses on Western cult fandom of the Korean genre film, Oldboy, and discusses how postmodern South Korean masculinitiy is reconstructed through the ambivalent desires of Western spectators based on the mixed practice ofmugukjeok, and neo-Orientalism. This chapter explains how the Western desire for the Other is expressed, transformed, and redefined by consuming hybrid South Korean masculinity, as exemplified by the “savage but cool” Dae-Soo, and how this transformed desire, “with a distinctly postmodern slant,” is different from earlier Orientalist desires towards the primitive Other. . . . Hence, Western audiences of Oldboy experience hybrid “time between dog and wolf,” which refers to the time when they cannot identify whether Dae-Soo is a “cool” friend or a savage stranger. (31-2)

Read more at (Originally published August 25, 2011)

Oldboy (2003)

I was eating my breakfast this morning, and it just popped into my head: Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. Just like that. It’s been a few years since I saw that movie, but it’s kinda hard to forget it. I have it on good authority that the brains of some people have been irreversibly altered by watching it. Everyone remembers sitting on the edge of the couch, the bed, or wherever you consume your film, with one’s mouth open. JUST OPEN! And you are thinking, wha? NO! For REAL! WHAT?!

But it’s not just the ending, it’s the way Park leads you down the false primrose path.This is one of the greatest instances of storytelling I’ve seen in a minute. And making that storytelling even more effective is Park’s use of the camera. I mean, at some point you know something’s WRONG, but you don’t know how WRONG it is until the end. And even then, your brain doesn’t want to accept it. And you can’t figure out who is MORE wrong: the guy who has been inexplicably locked in a room for 15 years, or the guy who does it.

Also, this movie messes with your moral sense. Sure, you can readily identify the complete failure of ethics, the lack of people doing the right thing.But admit it,  you’re also thinking to yourself: I’m a little bit impressed. OK, you gotta be a LOT impressed. This is the epitome of PERSISTENCE! Just sayin’.

And finally, it’s the film that gives much deserved respect to the hammer!


You know, I’m tired of the people who market Asian films to solely to men.  They act like only men, especially men in the golden demographic of 18-35, matter.  I got news, people…….women watch Asian film.  And not just the fluffy romantic comedies or coming-of age, angst-ridden teen dramas.  I’m talking serious triad and revenge-laden fare.  The recommendation for me to watch Chan-Wook Park’s Oldboy came from a Korean-American woman.  So what’s up with that?  Why do women like the genres of Asian film distributors and critics alike claim as the purview of men?

Well, I can’t speak for all the ladies, but I can tell you why I love films like Johnny To’s The Mission (See the Liang Shan Lounge this month), John Woo’s heartbreaking Bullet in the Head, and the Young and Dangerous series.  I like the idea of brotherhood, that is, I get it.  It’s not just for men.  The idea that you have someone, or a group of people, who have your back.  However, in most posse dynamics, there is always somebody who has to muck it up.  What do you do?  Well, you could whack them, or the sense of loyalty could be so strong that you are willing to overlook such, um, indiscretions.  I like that tension that occurs when loyalty is one the line.  Who do you trust?  And who are you going to have to take out?  Decisions, decisions.

Of course, there are women who just like to see people get messed up in the worst way.  Me, I’m trying to cut down on the superkinetic violence found in films directed by the likes of Takashi Miike.  But women are watching them.  Be afraid, be very afraid.