This is a movie with a message: "Do not fuck with Koreans." Because, going by this, they hold grudges with a vengeance, and take said vengeance in extraordinarily convoluted but devastating ways, which bear more than passing resemblance to Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. Oh Dae-Su (Choi) is abducted, for no apparent reason, and held captive for 15 years. Released equally abruptly, he tracks down the man responsible, Woo-jin (Yu), who tells him Oh has five days to find out the reasons why, or his new lover Mi-do (Kang) will be killed. He can't go to the police, because Woo-jin also framed Oh while he was locked up, taking a blood sample and leaving it to incriminate Oh in the death of his wife. As the time ticks by, the truth will be revealed and justice - of a particularly twisted sort, admittedly - will be carried out.
There are some fabulous moments; of that there can be no argument, even if the one that will likely stick in our minds longest is the geek-show scene of Oh chowing down on whole, live octopus. [A Korean delicacy, though they usually cut it up!] The concept is striking and effective, too. However, I'm less convinced about the relationship between Oh and Mi-Do; sure, after 15 years captivity, he'll be starved for affection, but the ease with which she falls for him is dubious. And since it is their relationship which forms the focus of Woo-jin's revenge, this weakness runs through to the movie's foundations. But as a meditation on how vengeance can prove as destructive on everyone concerned, it's a solid counterpoint to, say, Kill Bill. Revenge may be best served cold, but it can still stick in the throat.
[A particularly sumptuous, three-disc DVD set was released through Tartan Video USA on November 14th, including a commentary, deleted scenes, documentaries, a 212-minute video diary, interviews, Vol.1 of the graphic novel, a film cel, and a limited-edition kitchen-sink. Okay, I made the last one up. :-) For more information, visit the Tartan Video website]