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Originally published April 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 22, 2005 at 11:36 AM

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Movie review

Revenge tastes like live octopus in twisted "Oldboy"

Two extended torture scenes graphically demonstrate how to remove a man's front teeth. A live, writhing octopus is eaten on-camera. Later on, a central...

Special to The Seattle Times

Two extended torture scenes graphically demonstrate how to remove a man's front teeth. A live, writhing octopus is eaten on-camera. Later on, a central character chops off his own tongue.

A few weeks from now, these episodes may be all you remember from the freakish South Korean revenge drama "Oldboy." There's a certain gallows humor to the actions of the octopus, which wraps one tentacle around its consumer's nose and seems to be simultaneously eating him. The second teeth-extraction scene includes a wacky bit of dental advice.

But the rest of the picture takes itself much too seriously. While it opens with a bizarre, Kafka-esque prologue about a Seoul businessman (Choi Min-sik) who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years, the explanation for his imprisonment becomes increasingly implausible and uninteresting.

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Oldboy," with Choi Min-sik. Directed by Park Chan-wook, from a script by Hwang Jo-yoon, Im Joon-hyung and Park Chan-wook. 118 minutes. In Korean, with English subtitles. Rated R for violence, profanity, torture scenes. Egyptian.

Suppressed memories, identity questions and surreal plot twists are involved, and for a while you wonder if "Oldboy" could transform itself into the gory Asian equivalent of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." When the prisoner is released and meets a sympathetic waitress, however, the script reveals itself as an absurdly convoluted tale of betrayal and revenge.

The director and co-writer, Park Chan-wook, was a runner-up for top prizes at the 2001 Seattle International Film Festival for his much less sensational political drama, "Joint Security Area." Last year, the Cannes Film Festival gave him the Grand Jury Prize for "Oldboy."

He's a master technician, with an impressive command of music, sound effects and nightmarish visuals. But "Oldboy" is so uninvolving that it seems likely to join the ranks of such forgotten Cannes winners as "The Shout," "Repentance" and "Ulysses' Gaze."

John Hartl:

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