Adaptation, homage, and revisiting are all swirled together in the Park Chan-Wook’s operatic 2005 film, Oldboy. A tale of twisted revenge and the brutal consumption of self and others that hatred breeds, Park’s film is a larger-than-life story of a man imprisoned for 15 years for reasons he eventually figures out upon his escape, and it all turns out to be at the whim of a madman with a very personal grudge (and a seemingly inexhaustible bank account). While Park’s film was adapted from a Japanese manga (and then was remade to less than stellar results by Spike Lee), one online critic believes that it owes more to Greek tragedy than anything else.
Lewis Bond (a.k.a. YouTube User Channel Criswell) lays out his case for how Oldboy conforms to the basic tenets of classic Greek tragedy, from the structure of the movie to the film’s themes of hubris and man’s own destruction. The video is a very thorough explanation of classical Greek tragedy structures, full of diagrams and Greek terms defined to explain what Park achieved in his film. It’s full of major plot details for Oldboy, and people should only watch it after seeing the excellent 2005 movie.
The video essay is interesting and not without some moments that are worth debating. While it’s hard to pinpoint the influences of an artist, it’s stimulating to ponder if plays like Oedipus Rex or other great tragedies really played a role in formulating the structure of the film. Does Oldboy owe more to the grotesque Elizabethan tragedies (Dr. Faustus, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth), in which man is undone by his own nature and hubris than the Greek tradition of a divine sort of judgment? All questions worth considering while watching this video.