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Old Boy – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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With the popularity surrounding Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s 2003 film Oldboy, an adaptation whose own creative premise and direction had solidified it within the pages cult film history, the source material in which that film stemmed from, Garon Tsuchiya’s manga Old Boy, has quite the peculiar reputation as providing the source material for one of the most unique Korean films to be released in the last decade. But although similar in its foundational premise, the film adaptation significantly diverges from the manga in almost every way, following its own pathos separate from that of Tsuchiya’s creation. But regardless of these fundamental differences, the Old Boy manga is its own unique work that succeeds on numerous levels despite notably failing at others.

From the standpoint of its narrative, Old Boy is handled with considerable care as an exploration on the humanistic philosophies of individuals seeking revenge more so than providing substantial focus on the characters themselves. As essentially a battle of wits, the manga examines the notion of retribution as being a mutual experience and not simply a one-sided endeavor. Furthering this notion is how one’s memory coincides with one’s ability to remember past actions and the perceived responses by the individuals in whom were involved in those actions. The psychological elements surrounding memory and revenge within Old Boy are undoubtedly the manga’s greatest strength, easing us into a world where uncovering the truth may lead one towards understanding or misfortune – or perhaps even both.

Main character Shinichi Goto is certainly given ample time for development as we witness the psychological deterioration building up within him through each subsequent chapter. It is the discovery – and revenge – on his part that promotes the narrative as one that effectively conveys a sense urgency as to whether Shinichi, and us as the reader, will ever find out the reasoning behind his captivity. This makes for some very intense sequences of dialogue shared between Shinichi and Takaaki, the individual behind Shinichi being held captive for 10 years. The narrative constructs their interactions as very intimate and usually sharing the same space with one another. This was a very unique and amusing choice for the manga to take, with their feuding being seen as quite visible, upfront, and confrontational, unlike the conventional take on enemies battling from afar. Along the way we slowly unravel the mysteries of Shinichi’s past through his companions as well, each with their own contributions towards helping – or hindering – Shinichi’s journey.

Unfortunately, one of the primary issues with the manga is that despite having a numerous characters within its story, it is really only about Shinichi and Takaaki. None of the supporting characters, although initially appearing as valuable and collective elements of the narrative, never truly develop outside of being figural chess pieces in Takaaki’s outlandish game of discovery. This would have been more of an appropriate direction if not for the simple fact that Tsuchiya spends numerous chapters giving the impression that they crucial members towards Shinichi’s road to self-realization, with little-to-no significant resolve for any of them by the end of it all. This is unfortunate considering that many of the individuals that helped Shinichi along his way are seemingly appointed to positions that dilute any significance they once held within the prior chapters.

But perhaps the main, progressive issue with the manga is that it is unable to fully realize its own conclusion without resorting to some irrational choices leading up to it. Reading through the final chapters, one will soon notice that new plot devices are swiftly introduced that seem entirely illogical, making Tsuchiya appear as unconfident as to where and how he wants to the story to actually end. This is especially apparent in the last several chapters where the concept of hypnosis is slopingly instituted into the framework of the narrative, appearing more as a decision utilized only in order to artificially hamper Shinichi’s progress in revealing the reasons lying behind his captivity. It is this strong sense of deliberately prolonging the narrative that overall stifles much of the emotional impact the narrative could have potentially shown, in turn delivering an anti-climatic ending that does not truly have us better understand Takaaki’s decision to lock up Shinichi, nor does it really reflect the astute demeanor and personality of Takaaki that was present throughout a majority of the manga. It all seems haphazardly rushed and without any real significance outside of vaguely exploring the concepts of loneliness and paranoia.

Notwithstanding some of these issues, Old Boy is still an effectively grounded reading experience of one man’s quest for understanding the unjust actions committed against him. Its initially simplistic but increasingly complex narrative is what makes it a definite page turner, slowly engulfing us into an environment where trickery and uncertainty are commonplace for many of its characters. Tsuchiya delivers a very good story in this respect, even though it falls upon moments of utter fallaciousness from time to time. This also coincides with the awkward pacing of the manga as well, with much of its concluding chapters being slightly drawn out seemingly in a ruse to conceal Tsuchiya’s indecisiveness towards how to end the series. Ultimately, Old Boy is perhaps one of the rare circumstances where its film adaptation provides an overall more appreciative experience than the source material in which it originates from.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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