Oldboy: Interpretation

Interpretation

“My Name, Oh Dae-Su, means getting through one day at a time. That’s what “Oh Dae-Su” means. But, God… Why can’t I get through today?”

By Michael Cunningham
What you are about to read is my interpretation of the movie Oldboy. If you haven’t watched it yet then please do, it’s one of the best movies ever made. But be warned: it’s not for weak stomachs.

Quick synopsis: the film follows Oh Dae-Su who is released into the world after being locked up for 15 years for no apparent reason by an unknown captor. This is a revenge film which obliterates any that came before it, except maybe The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie holds a 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 127 reviews and Roger Ebert called it ‘a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths  of the human heart which is strips bare.’ Spike Lee is also planning on making a joint out of it, so be sure to watch it before he does. This interpretation came to me like a vision after I had watched the film and struggled to fall asleep. Shuffling around in bed I was reflecting on the final scene in the snow, and was wondering why the lady was touched by the words ‘Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?’ written on Oh Dae-Su’s letter. Then it hit me, BAM, right in the face! I rushed to wake my cousin up, who I had watched it with, but he was dead. So I started writing frantically, desperate to catch my train of thought before it left the station. What follows is the interpretation

These two images provide the biggest clue to the meaning behind Oldboy.

The revenge masterpiece starts with Oh Dae-Su on a rooftop, hanging tightly onto a man’s tie while he’s teetering off the edge of the building, the man is terrified as Oh Dae-Su glares at him menacingly saying ‘I want to tell you my story’. The fact that of all scenes, the movie began with this one is very important for unraveling the hidden meaning behind the events that follow. After this scene Oh Dae-Su is eventually kidnapped and kept hostage in a hotel room for 15 years, a disturbing painting of a man neither smiling nor weeping -but both at the same time (a face that Oh Dae-Su makes directly after looking at the painting, and at the very end when he reunites with his daughter/lover in the snow) – appears on the wall, inscribed on it: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” After the movie shows 15 years pass through events that transpire on his television, Oh Dae-Su wakes up inside a briefcase on a rooftop, it is here that he meets the man with a white puppy. The man is about to kill himself, but Oh Dae-Su wants to tell him his story before he does, so he catches the man by the tie and hangs onto him before he has a chance to plummet to his death. The man weeps to Oh Dae-Su “Mister, even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?”. Oh Dae-Su pauses, and very slowly repeats what the man just said, as if the words held some significance to him.

Oh Dae-Su tells the man his story, which is presumably one of being contained and locked up for 15 years. Afterwards the man, empathising with Oh Dae-Su’s story, nods slowly and says ‘I see”, he then wants to tell O Dae-Su his own story, but Oh Dae quickly storms off and when he reaches the street the man crashes from the sky into a car. This scene has strong parallels with a couple of scenes at the very end of the movie, and forms the basis for the interpretation. The rest of the movie follows Oh Dae-Su’s pursuit to find the man that imprisoned him and why. He finally finds out that it was a man called Lee Woo-jin. This man had a love affair with his sister at a young age, Oh Dae-Su finds out about it and spreads the word to everyone in school, which leads to Lee Woo-jin’s sister and lover committing suicide. A flashback scene shows Lee Woo-jin holding her by the hand as she hangs off a bridge, before letting her fall to her death below. This traumatic experience leads Lee Woo-jin to blame Oh Dae-Su, which forms the motive for why he imprisoned him for 15 years. To add to the revenge, he hypnotises both him and his daughter (who he hasn’t seen since she was a little girl as he’s been imprisoned so long) to fall in love. Eventually Lee Woo-jin reveals this secret to Oh Dae-Su. A perfectly ironic revenge plot considering Lee’s affair with his own sister. The whole movie has you rooting for Oh Dae-Su, wanting to see him exact revenge on his captor, but the ending switches the roles around to reveal, that he was in fact living out someone else’s revenge the entire time. However, something didn’t quite gel with me. Lee Woo-jin’s intricate plan of revenge seemed way too extreme to dish out on someone such as Oh Dae-Su, who was guilty of nothing except behaving like any teenage boy would have done in his circumstances.

Upon finding out that the woman he fell in love with was actually his daughter, Oh Dae-Su seeks the help of the hypnotist that helped hatch the entire plot against him. He writes a letter to her saying ‘this has been my story so far’. The woman meets him in the snow and expresses that she didn’t feel the need to help him, but was touched by a certain line in his letter: ‘Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?’. She then warns him that the hypnotism might go wrong and ‘distort’ his memories. She says to him: ‘look at that tree… It’s slowly changing into a concrete pillar. You’re now inside Lee Woo-jin’s penthouse. It’s a dreary night. The sound of your footsteps crossing to the window fills the room. When I ring my bell you’ll split into two people. One person doesn’t know your secret: Oh Dae-Su. The one who knows your secret is the monster. When I ring the bell again the monster will turn around and start walking. With each step he will age by one year. When he reaches 70, the monster will die. There’s no need to worry. It will be a very peaceful death. Now, good luck to you.

Monster

There are a lot of parallels here, for starters the every step is one year is alluded in an earlier scene when Oh Dae-Su pulls out a man’s (who he believed to be his captor) teeth, saying every tooth I pull is one year of my life I’ve lost to you, also Oh Dae-Su reveals that his name means “getting through one day at a time”. The man on the rooftop says the exact same thing that Oh Dae-Su writes in the letter, he also has a white dog, which parallels Oh Dae-Su barking like a dog to Lee Woo-jin to stop him from telling his daughter the truth about their relationship. Finally, the man being held by the tie before plunging to his suicidal death resembles Lee Woo-jin holding his sister’s hand while she’s hanging over the bridge. Oh Dae-Su refers to himself as a ‘monster’ (above image) and even walks into a sushi shop and asks to ‘eat something alive’, this is something that monsters typically do. He then eats a live octopus, it’s tentacles attacking his face as he bites into it, afterwards he passes out. This monster has walked it’s 70 steps it seems. If you haven’t caught onto my explosive theory yet I’ll paint it out now: The man on the rooftop about to kill himself is the real Lee Woo-jin, and Oh Dae-Su is his haunted memory, his monster. This is evidenced by Oh Dae-Su’s first encounter with Lee Woo-jin, his captor.Oh Dae-Su grabs him by the throat, but his captor’s white haired side kick (the white dog?) intercepts him, Lee Woo-Jin says to Oh Dae: ‘Wow, you’re strong, Mr. Monster. Yes, you are the monster that I created’.

Monster

It is clear as sky now that Oh Dae-Su is Lee Woo-jin’s repressed memory of his past, which is why he has imprisoned him for 15 years, in the cell of his own mind.Oh Dae-Su is his monster, that he has created. This explains why the ‘revenge’ that Lee Woo-jin enacted on Oh Dae-su was so harsh and didn’t fit his crime, because when we are deeply depressed we like to torture ourselves, even if it’s completely irrational and we don’t deserve to suffer for it. That’s it. I’ll need to watch it a second time so I can flesh it out some more, but that is what I believe to be the ultimate interpretation of Oldboy.

Please share your opinions of my interpretation, and any interpretations you have as well!

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73 thoughts on “Oldboy: Interpretation

  1. Overall an interesting interpretation, with a few stretches and misunderstandings of Korean culture throughout, but for the most part I agree.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, It’s true, I don’t know much about Korean culture as I’ve never been. I’m not sure what parts exactly you’re referring to, but I assume the eating live octopus part making Oh Dae-Su a monster is one of them. I know they actually do that in Korea, but I think it was this movie which made that big over there. Also I want to make known that this is just my interpretation, and I’m sure the director might have had a different vision.

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    • yeah, it is true that Koreans eat live octopus, but they eat them in very small pieces. They don’t put the whole animal in their mouths like the way Oh Dae Su does. So I agree with your interpretation that the scene of Oh eating the whole thing shows the monstrosity elicited from him

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  3. Holy Fuckballs. I’m usually good at hitting metaphors, and picking up underlying tones, and not for one second did I even think about a psychological thriller interpretation. Very well thought out, adds another layer to the movie.

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  4. Bullshit…dont try to read way too much into things. This movie is not tarsem singhs cell, where prisoners of the mind are to be fought. The movie is quite simply a revenge story inspired heavily by count of monte cristo but with a twist in it. I agree the person taking revenge is hiding his own guilt for not saving his sister, and going out n telling everyone that they both loved each other. He dint have the courage to face societies contempt for incestous relationships n this cowardice is what takes away the strength from her sister who may have been pregnant but can’t reveal the fathers identity. He could have saved her from committing suicide, but blames it entirely on the gossip monger. On Oh dae su’s part where he holds the other guy by his tie, it is just a side story maybe having parallel to the brother sister story…but neither is oh dae su interested in saving that guy from committing suicide and really thats not his problem, he has become to cold to even care about listening to his story and maybe in the end he feels that he should have saved that guy, so uses that guys line to convince the hypnotist knowing that however shitty the world maybe, n perverted…love still has a chance. About him becoming monster is copied from gankutsuou n count of monte cristo n eating live octopus is a strength testing ritual commonly done in korea, japan. So love the movie for the intensity of its simple emotions rather then trying to mix them with serial killers mental cages.

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  5. I enjoyed the movie a lot, I just had a different interpretation of it than you did. All views of the film are valid, none are more correct than the other. Even the director’s vision of the film is not correct, because the director not only made the film for himself, but also for every person who watches it. Thanks for your comment!

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  6. for the end bit of your analysis, all korean names are structured similarly to lee woo-jin or oh dae-su, whereas Lee is the family name (last name) and Woo-Jin is the given name of the person. For example, my korean name would be Lee Gup-bom.

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    • Thank you for clearing that up for me, I admit that I don’t have a sound understanding of Korean culture to base my interpretation on, so in a way it is an ignorant interpretation, but still valid in the sense that it is how I interpreted it. I appreciate you offering me a new lens to view my interpretation with, and I will dissolve that last part from my memory next time I watch the film! Thanks again

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  7. So this is pretty much an awesome Jekyll and Hyde or Confessions of a Justified Sinner, except the double in play here is a repressed memory instead of schizophrenia or an over-inflated Ego? I need to watch this movie again; thanks for your analysis. It really is one of the greatest films I’ve seen. Korea is making some amazing films right now. Long may it continue and grow. Perhaps we can get some proper cinema back on the mainstream to overtake the mornic “blockbuster” culture of Hollywood. Viva Asian film!

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  8. Hi!
    I like your interpretation, find it’s very insightful. Even though i’ve watched this movie about a dozen times this possibility never occurred to me! Even though i think the similar name-structure you put forward is the pattern after which people are named in Korea (when you compare it to the actor’s names or the late philantrope Kim Jong-il XD ), the rest of your analysis very solid. I’m going to watch this again RIGHT NOW.
    BTW: did you know there is going to be an American remake soon?

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    • Thanks for the comment! Yeah I’ve been informed about the name structure, I should probably change it… that part of the analysis was a rookie error on my part! It is a fantastic movie, I will probably watch it again soon as well :) Yes I’ve heard Spike Lee was doing a remake, although it was a while ago I heard this. I hope it’s good!

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  9. can you explain the ending? how oh dae su’s face is smiling when mi-do says “i love you”, but then distorts into an ambiguous face (like that poster in the hotel). does that mean oh dae su is still the monster?

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  10. At first I thought it was the sister’s daughter that Oh Dae-Su fell in love with because she was pregnant foreals. Then I’m like wait a minute, his sister suicided before anything can come out lol. I had to reread your interpretation twice because it could have been something else if one detail changes. Thanks for all you wrote :)

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  11. I read your interpretation way back but I felt like re-reading it after watching the movie again. I don’t completely agree with the theory but it sure as fuck is interesting. I must admit that I feel the movie stressed the importance of the sentence ‘Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?’. Which does indeed makes me think he’s ‘The Monster’, ‘The Beast’.
    Thank you for your interpretation, I would be interested in hearing your interpretation of Donnie Darko as well.

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  12. are there different versions of this movie? because in the version i saw, the movie does not begin with him on the rooftop holding the guys tie. the one i saw starts with him drunk, being in the police station, then getting kidnapped, locked up for 15 years, and the rooftop scene come after him being locked up all that time, then hypnotized, and waking up on that rooftop. wtf?

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    • there is only one version of the movie that i’m aware of.. when i wrote this i for some reason thought that the movie began with a flash of the rooftop scene before continuing on with the police station/kidnapping scene you mentioned. i haven’t seen it since then so i’ll take your word that i messed up the order. either way, the interpretation is still valid regardless of the order of the first few scenes.

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  13. There’s a few interesting points like the parallel scenes and the monster comments. However I don’t think the man on the roof he meets is the real Woo Jin at all. There’s no evidence for that and you can see in the flashbacks that he is definitely not. It is just as you said a parallel scene that the director uses to enhance the story telling.

    My interpretation of the story is that Mido is actually not his daughter. They are both hypnotized to fall in love. There a many scenes in the film that back this theory up and I encourage you to watch it again and look for them. Just to input, the name Mido means lost in the wrong road/end.
    The shopkeeper even says it in the shop earlier in the film when they are searching for his daughter that she may have gone to Switzerland.

    Other questions you may want to consider if you enjoy investigating films: Why do you think Oh Dae Su smiles at the end? Does Mido flap those angel wings like it belongs to her? Why is WooJin so concerned about his suit in the penthouse? Why does the director get the “prison owner” to say to stop imagining things to Oh Dae Su when he pretends to pull out his tooth. Why are there two tooth brushes in the prison cell where Mido is waiting while Oh dae su is in the penthouse.

    In my opinion, and I think the director intended for the film to be open to interpretation, Mido is not his daughter. I mean she doesn’t even have a surname for a reason. Interesting read though! Well done.

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    • I just watched the film and read the analysis above. But THIS analysis is another major eye-opener. I’ll think about this and maybe one day figure these questions out. Till then is there ANYONE who has the answers to the above questions?

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      • For starters, the clock store scene where Mido asks about oh daesu’s daughter’s whereabouts is a mystery. The shopkeeper tells her that she’s moved to Sweden but is she telling the truth? Is Mido hypnotized to go there? She does an odd expression… I’m not sure but all the clocks indicate different times and the set, the sound of the clocks is disorientating Mido and us, the spectators.

        After they have sex, oh dae su drys Mido’s hair. This is a typical act between a father and daughter. So some scenes suggest that she is infact the daughter. But if you see the wall above the bed, there is a KingKong poster. This suggests a love that shouldn’t be… Again the director leaves the topic open ended.

        The third purple box is what holds the truth. But we never get to see what’s inside the third box infront of Mido. We know what Oh Dae Su thinks is inside the box but he’s been wrong already with the prison keeper’s hands. Has the second box with the photo album deceived Oh Dae Su already? Park chan wook decides that the box be let alone as if that box was open and Mido sees the photo album, she will know if it’s set up or not.

        Every single scene has an input and a suggestion to the storyline. The whole movie is like a renaissance painting. Just before the snow scene, after the penthouse the tape player is cut off. This is an idiom in Korea used when somebody can’t remember something. The white setting of the snow suggests a fresh start, but the footprints remain a mystery and we’re not quite sure which side of the story his smile means. Does he remember or does he not? But for the first time Mido is seen in a contrasting, strong red clothing/hat which I think suggests, whether he remembers or not what woo jin made him believe (and no matter what the truth is) he still loves her as a lover, as a partner not as a father.

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  14. In your interpretation you said that Lee Woo-jin’s revenge seemed way too extreme to dish out on someone such as Oh Dae-Su as he had done something seemingly so minor. In my interpretation of the film i believe the most important quote, that is repeated throughout the film, is that of ” be it a grain of sand or a rock, in water they sink the same”. This quote provides the basis why Lee Woo-jins revenge is so huge considering the crime. Lee Woo-jin holds Oh Dae-Su personally responsible for the death of his sister and lover, as, if Oh Dae-Su had held his tongue about what he saw Lee Woo-jin believes his sister would not have ended up dead. If Oh Dae-Su had killed his sister in cold bloo it d would be the equivalent of a rock and what Oh Dae-Su did would be the equivalent of a grain of sand. When either of these things are dropped into water they both end up sinking to the same place, the bottom, and in this case the bottom was the death of Lee Woo-jins sister. Be the action as big as a rock or small as a grain of sand Lee Woo-jin makes no discrepancy between the two.

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  15. I just watched this movie and I have to say, this whole page is very interesting. I believe that this movie is similar to a poem, you read more little pieces of it every time you see it. Your thoughts on this movie were really well thought out. This is a very interesting take on it and I have to say, it makes a lot of sense. The movie, at first, is very overwhelming (with so much emotion and so many sidestories) and this theory added even more to it. Though it’s very complicated this movie seems very vague about its true meaning. I’m very interested in your thoughts on this movie, as well as others’. I would have never thought of these ideas or even thought of that perspective. I’m interested in how you came to that conclusion. What’s even more interesting is that this take on it is much more relatable to people than the, “plotline.” It seems like you put your own experiences into this interpretation and I like that about it. Overall, really good job! This was amazing. You think of things in a unique way.

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    • Thanks :) I agree with what you said about the movie being like a poem, it is very poetic and has numerous layers to it that not even the director would be aware of. A true piece of art! I don’t claim my theory to be what the director intended, nor do I expect it to be for everyone, but it works for me and I’m glad it does for you too!

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  16. Great thoughts! I really love to see all the different viewpoints! Did anyone else also find the verse the filmmakers chose as a clue to woo-jin’s residence an odd choice? It’s Proverbs 6:5

    “ Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
    like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”

    Despite its purpose to the plot, I still felt this verse was a strange choice; primarily because it’s so ambiguous I can’t imagine how it would stand out to the filmmakers.  The plot device found within it could have been extrapolated from secular literature just as easily, if not easier, as from a passage of scripture. This verse was chosen specifically just as the rest of the chapter is deliberately left unmentioned. Here is another segment from that chapter:

    * ANTS
    6 “Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
    7 It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
    8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.”

    These I find especially interesting since ants are used in sequences of hallucinations.  In this verse ants represent responsible and efficient members of a community.  The primary ants hallucination, interestingly enough, happens just after we hear a news report saying that “Dae-su drank and was often observed fighting with his wife”. Not being a very helpful member of society. :)

    I just thought this was an interesting connection. This verse contains other interesting connection you may find interesting as well! Look it up!

    One other thing that may intrigue:
    I’ve always felt that the action Dae-su takes in cutting his own tongue out was out of place. I now realize that was probably a gut reaction more out of discomfort than anything. In fact, I now think that was a deliberate choice made for one specific reason.

    Matthew 5: 29-30
    “ If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away… It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go to hell.”

    I feel as though there are numerous of these subtle connections to scripture. This is such an intricate film! So cool how people can keep seeing new things in it.

    (sorry for the length of this post…)

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    • Just one thing, about cutting his tongue out.
      Remember when Dae-Su recovered that audio tape? He listened to it and on that tape the jailor asked Woo-Jin why he wanted to imprison Dae-Su, Woo-Jin replied: ‘Because he talks too much’.
      Seems to me that Dau-Su thought this punishment up for himself to show Woo-Jin he had remorse.

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      • Woo-jin also says that it wasn’t his ‘dick’ that got his sister pregnant, it was Oh Dae-su’s tongue. Oh Dae-su then symbolically castrates himself for Woo-jin.

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  17. Hey, I really liked the way you interpreted this movie! It holds up very well because of the whole stalking of Oh-Daesu’s every move, or why Oh-Daesu knows where to find him in the penthouse. The only flaw I’m seeing is that it is inconsistent with the story of Mido and Oh-Daesu. Is Mido just another figment of his mind in your interpretation or is she a real person having a real relationship with him? And if she is a real person, is she really his daughter, or is he just creating that illusion because the memories of his sister? Remember that Mido never does open that box, she never finds out, maybe because it was never true. It seems impossible that he took revenge on the monster inside himself by falling in love with his own daughter. In the end it seemed like the monster had left him and he got to go on living with Mido, no longer believing that they were father and daughter, more at peace with himself. Are you saying that this opening scene means that the monster found him again, told him the story again, and thats why he kills himself?

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  18. Yeah, your interpretation kinda satisfies that kinda logical imbalance, because I like you felt, that Oh Dae Su’s supposed sin didn’t warrant the punishment. He wasn’t even the one who spread the rumour, and something as morally wrong as incest, it’s so hard not to tell anyone about it, especially when you’re curious @ that age, whether such behaviour is actually normal. Like it didn’t seem very justified to me, but your interpretation could work although what James points out is kinda valid, like is Mido another part of his internal realm? Is it more like a fight club type thing, where it’s the same person encapsulated into 2 bodies. Yeah, couldn’t see why the villain went through all this trouble just fore Dae su to sleep with his own daughter? What did he achieve by that? If you’ve got any more interpretations about the ending, do share!

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  19. Interesting. I don’t agree with your interpretation but it was good to read nonetheless. Park has a doctorate in Psychology. His films always tend to delve very deep into the human psyche, he likes to deconstruct what makes us what we are and serve it to the audience bare, bloody and raw. This is why his work is so confronting, he isn’t afraid to go places that people would rather not go. The line which you reference as being so important “Even though I am lower than a beast, do I not deserve to live?” Is a commentary on the human species. We are animals like all others on this planet, but we are gifted with a far greater intelligence than any other beings on earth. When you combine our primal instincts with our incredibly complex brains, sometimes things get broken, sometimes horrible things happen. I believe that Park is simply showing us how horrible humans can be, how destructive, cruel and twisted we can become. Oh Dae Su committed no serious crime, yet what he did sparked a rage so terrible in Lee Woo Jin that it caused his brain and primal desire for revenge to combine and commit this atrociously cruel act of punishment. Of course, Woo Jin himself faced a very traumatic moment in his life, holding and letting his sister/lovers life slip through his fingers and watching her die. It is this event which causes his mind to become broken, and the beast, the man become one. There is no divide or distinction between one or the other anymore inside of him.

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    • first of all, he doesn’t havea doctorate in psychology. phds and film directing is hard stuff, you really can’tn do both at once. he has a undergrad in philosophy.

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  20. You’ve written quite an interpretation and while I do appreciate the deep thought process behind your review, I believe that you’ve tackled the topic TOO deeply. No offense. I think the story has to be taken as is, don’t forget the starting scene where oh dae su was abducted etc. Meaning the plot that happened has to be taken as is – Oh Dae Su was abducted, Lee abducted him because he wants to enact revenge because he thought that the rumor that dae su started was the reason his sister wanted to kill herself, intricate plan of revenge eventually pits dae su with his daughter with whom he had sexual relations with, couldnt take the truth and started thrashing around, cut his throat because he thought that was the reason why all of this was happening. So I believe you take the movie as is, the old man at the start was not Lee but just some random stranger. I think its Park’s way of saying that this is not a conventional story but a more dangerous plot (thats why the man jumped from the building, take it as a comedic technique if you will).

    The ending though, is different.

    As you may have seen, the scene with the hypnotist is a heavily debated one. Here is my take on it. Remember when he the monster had to take 70 steps and then he will die a peaceful death? If you count the footprints from the chair to the scene where dae su fell down, it was exactly 70. This means that the Old Dae Su, who doesn’t know the secret, wasnt the Dae Su that woke up. The Dae Su that woke up was the monster. Meaning hypnosis wont help him on this one, and Lee said that too, they didnt mess with his memory through hypnosis, he just forgot about Lee’s sister because it wasnt important to him. This one though with Mi-do though was important and he has to live with that, he has no choice but to be the monster and getting that Old Dae Su back is impossible.

    Great interpretation by you though. Keep it up!

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    • Love your take on this, Matt! =D I admire Michael’s passion in looking for parallels in the movie; however, I think the movie should be taken as is.

      So glad to have watched this movie! Any movie that inspires like-minded people to spend time analyzing elements and fleshing out theories is definitely worth it.

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  21. Its very interesting to read everyone’s interpretation of the movie. I thought it was superb. Amazing acting and cinematography and I like having something to think about afterwards too!

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  22. I really hope someone can shed some light on me for this but I notice when Dae Su checks out that hair salon to learn more about Woo-Jin’s sister, there’s a couple of close ups of the woman-on-the-phone’s knees and of the one who walks in through the door. It puzzles me because I don’t see a connection but Dae Su is currently taking notice of something.
    Anyway, these interpretations are fabulous.

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  23. I was wondering what do you think the significance of the violet is throughout the movie? The umbrella in the beginning was violet, Woo Jin’s sister’s dress was violet, the two gift boxes were violet, the one guy’s ring on the cut of hand was violet, and the restaurant was also called the Violet Blue Dragon. I’ve heard that violet is related to spirituality or serenity but I can’t quite piece it together. Maybe because in the ending he had found peace once he had relieved himself of his own monster? Haha, I have no idea. Does anyone have any ideas?

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    • may be woo jin was obsessed with violet which was worn by his sis wen she dies. and may be the writer of this interpretation is right about the memory thing. because even wen we try to hide or lock that past some of it still remains. all the above violets were woo jins stuff.

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    • There is a famous short story in Korean called “Sonagi,” which is a love story between a pre-adolescent boy and a girl. In the short story, the girl says she likes the color purple and dies at the end of the story. When we went over that short story in Korean middle school, I was taught that the color purple was supposed to represent tragedy.

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  24. Hm. Some pretty interesting thoughts here. I just finished watching the movie for the first time, and then read this post and all the comments. Lots to think about. I definitely do think the story is deeper than what it first appears to be on screen. And it for sure is pretty complicated. I think I’ll be thinking on it awhile. Some of it still really confuses me.

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  25. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on the movie. I just watched it for the first time last week also. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about the ending, but it’s interesting that there were exactly 70 footprints. I never bothered to count them. I do have a couple questions about Mi-do.

    Her birth name wasn’t Mi-do right? I forget if Dae-su called her by name on the payphone. Surely she must have had a different name or else he would immediately have thought of his child when he met her.

    Also, did she really live in Sweden for ~15 years? Or was that just a fabrication created by Woo-jin? I forget exactly what was said about that.

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  26. I just watched the movie for the first time. It was amazing, but left my mind reeling, and full of questions. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments above.
    One more thing, though. If Mido is really his daughter, who is her mother? It can’t be Lees sister, because she died. Can someone please explain this? Thanks!

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  27. Just watched the movie. A little messed up at the moment…… my mind is having a hard time trying to comprehend this movie that it dislikes so much but at the same time finds fascinating…. Agh. Anyway, like everyone else I enjoyed reading the theories presented . It’s amazing, the kind of interpretations there are. Wish I could contribute but I think I’ve gone partially insane. Maybe I’ll come back later to contribute. :)

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  28. I guess this interpretation would also explain the age difference between the two characters. I do have a point to make – that the rooftop scene shows no parallels between the white dog and the white-haired man besides their hair color. In the rooftop, the dog does nothing to protect its master, while in the other scene the man is scene as a formidable wall between Oh-Dae and Lee-Woo. I’m just saying my thoughts on your interpretation, which is extremely interesting and new! Well done. Nothing like lack of sleep to help inspiration right?

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  29. Some great discussion on here. Thanks for that folks.

    I went back and watched the movie again, for probably the 3rd or 4th time. In the scene where “Woo-Jin” is accosting his “sister” in the classroom, she picks up a mirror and looks into it. Then there is a peak in the musical score, I couldn’t help but see the possibility Woo-Jin is a transvestite. He was born a woman, and had transgender surgery to become a woman. He does not have a scar on his chest for the pacemaker, it was to take his breasts away. I also think it could be why the director spends so much time on the scene where he is getting dressed into his suit. The yearbooks have been edited so that you could not see her, thus erasing the memory of his previous gender. The reputation of Woo-Jin sister, which is in fact Woo-Jin (born a woman) as a slut haunts his memory, thus became a different person by changing his gender. Does that theory make sense to anyone else?

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    • i don’t think she was bothered by the slut reputation as much as she was bothered by the fact she had fucked her brother and thought she was pregnant with his child. although she was ok with loving him, she couldn’t deal with the society’s judgment, perhaps.

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  30. I think Oh Dae-Su molested his daughter and his wife found out. Oh Dae-Su kills his wife and is put in jail. When Oh Dae-Su is released from jail he pays a hypnotist to make him forget everything that has happened and then pays the hypnotist to also make his daughter, who is 18 now, to fall in love with him so they can be together.

    Most of this movie is like a fever dream of him trying to ignore that he molested his daughter, murdered his wife, went to jail, and has now hypnotized his daughter to fall in love with him.

    Lee Woo-Jin is the trapped good conscience of Oh Dae-Su. Notice Lee Woo-Jin has a christian cross on his lower back and lives in a nicer prison (penthouse) than Oh Dae-Su did. Lee Woo-Jin tries to force the real memories onto Oh Dae-Su but gets caught up in Oh Dae-Su’s silly fake adventure. Notice Lee Woo-Jin doesn’t take Oh Dae-Su or his fake adventure seriously a lot of times and is usually smiling or laughing. Lee Woo-Jin’s sister is the personification of Oh Dae-Su’s daughter. Lee Woo-Jin loves their daughter and hates what he’s become and in the end is forced to let her go (she is suppose to be his daughter, not his lover). Lee Woo-Jin realizes in the end that he cannot force Oh Dae-Su to except what he’s done and commits suicide, fades away. Lee Woo-Jin dressed nice at the end because he thought Oh-Dae-Su was going to accept reality and the consequences and Lee-Woo-Jin was going to emerge from his prison and Oh-Dae-Su was going to go away.

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    • The fever dream is caused by Oh Dae-Su trying to create a new past that makes sense. So instead of him remembering that he went to jail he remembers a man kidnapping him and putting him in a room for 15 years. He has to create the kidnapper, so the story makes sense, so he creates Lee Woo-Jin who he remembers seeing him make out with someone when he was younger, it may or may not have been his sister. Remember Lee Woo-Jin says that wasn’t part of the hypnosis, you just forgot that. Oh Dae-Su keeps creating (rationalizing) a story that allows him to explain his current situation (i.e. prison tattoos on his hand, the fact he knows how to fight from jail, etc.) and avoid the truth.

      Not sure if this is really evidence that his daughter didn’t go to Sweden but the phone number on the piece of paper is 46 8 660 0330, which is the real phone number for the Korean Embassy. Not sure why anyone would need to contact the Korean Embassy to call someone out of country.

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  31. Duuuuude. The fuck just happened. I can definitely beg to intimate that each and every one of these explanations offers insight into a potentially brilliant resolvement. You can apply reverse irony and say Oh Dae Su planted himself in the prison for 15 years, with the aid of a hypnotist and professional scheme crew, as a means of self punishment for not ever apologizing to Lee Woo Jin (for letting the whole school know about the time he sucked on his sisters titties). But then youd just say it all comes down to cause and effect and trying to find someone to blame for all your sins. All Lee Woo Jin wanted was to get Oh Dae to realize what he’d caused and how terribly the act of tell tale had effected Lee’s life. The grain of sand and rock quote really sends it home, phenomenal movie and interpretations :D. Ask yourself, who do you love?

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  32. It reminds me somehow the “Shutter Island”, the same dellima at the very end of the movie “Which would be worse: To live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”

    The footsteps in the snow imo mean that the monster walked and “died” (as ths hypnotist said), yet he is a monster not knowing the truth, therefore “as a good man he dies (metaphorically) ”

    In shutter island he is left between making lobotomy willingly knowing his awfull past, or lobotoming him against his will, but with him believing he was a good man.

    Mindfuck in both cases

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  33. I read in a Korean blog that the man who committed suicide from the apartment roof was probably a zoophile (that he had an affair with the white dog he was holding), and that is why he committed suicide — because he did something that is against societal norms, like the way Oh (unwittingly) had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. I was wondering what you think of that interpretation. Also, why do you think the movie begins with four or five men yelling and making a fuss? Sorry, I don’t mean to make this an interrogation. It’s just that I found your analysis on the movie quite interesting and wanted to hear your opinions more

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  34. not a bad interpretation although i must say i was very perturbed by the “.. I rushed to wake my
    cousin up, who I had watched it with, but he
    was dead.”
    Well my sincerest condolence to you.
    Oldboy was awesome.

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  37. It seems as if everyone is fixed on Oh Dae being a monster and that Lee Woo Jin was screwed over by OD earlier in life. The bottom line is that Lee Woo Jin was knowingly having a sexual relationship with his sister. Bad stuff. Oh Dae was an obnoxious drunk but had done nothing to warrant 15 years in prison, or worse. Yet he gets tricked into unknowingly having sex with his daughter and he is automatically a monster.

    I don’t feel that way about Oh Dae. He never would have knowingly done such a thing. Clearly he freaked out upon learning what he had done. It wasn’t his choice, and it took extravagant manipulation to make him do it. Why does he, and everyone else consider him a filthy monster? It would seem to me that his actions would be forgivable under the circumstances. Yet instead his life is ruined. Oh Dae got shit on from beginning to end – all because he was obnoxious and “talked too much”.

    At this point I’m kind-of leaning towards one of the theories where OD really did kill his wife and the majority of the movie was not real – and even in his made-up story/adventure he still loses.

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  38. Interesting interpretation, but I do think you should’ve gone deeper on your knowledge of Korea and it’s culture. Also, reading Oedipus Rex could help you in your quest. So, read more into Korea, read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and then rewatch the film, maybe you’ll gain more insight into the films hidden meanings.

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