Every Beat of OLD BOY
Back in the day, I used to have a blog where I would watch a movie a day and breakdown its story structure into acts and interpret it accordingly to the Hero’s Journey. It lasted for like a week since watching a movie a day and writing a breakdown is like, like really tuff and time consuming. Recently, especially due to what’s going on in the world with this corona virus and all, I decided to resurrect said project. I definitely won’t do everyday like a maniac but I will try to do one movie a week like a normal good boi under quarantine. As for the movie selections, I am up for taking requests but ultimately I’d like to write about my favourite Korean films. Korean cinema in my opinion has been world class since the early 2000’s, and now that it is gaining much more popularity, I wish to help the average Jane understand some of the cultural nuances these Korean auteurs reference in their work. Korean native filmmakers such as Park Chanwook and Bong Joonho are famous in the motherland for poking dry dark humour at Korean history and pop culture, but these Easter eggs are often looked over by non-koreans. This series will hopefully help you get a glimpse into their witty world and maybe even help you catch a few eggs on your own.
Without further adieu, I present to you the first film to be beaten and cracked open in my “Every Beat of” series, Park Chanwook’s masterpiece, ‘Old Boy’. If you are a film enthusiast, you already know the deal about how Tarantino wanted it to win Palme d’Or that year, but instead it took away the Grand Prix (which is okay I guess). It’s a film that really helped shape Park Chanwook’s style as he heavily emphasized art direction and creative compositing in his edits. To Koreans, it’s the film that really pushed the envelope and opened up international discussions in Asian cinema (way more than other Korean films, just truss).
Ok, so lets begin but here are a few disclaimers:
-Most of this is written in note form and without any proper editing, so if you see any mistakes or anything like that shoot me a message.
-The purpose of this post is for me to exercise my writing and to get myself into the groove of thangz. You may hate it but I am going to write it in my own style so don’t expect a god dang University of Iowa type essay, okay. It’s a form of training I used to practice back when I was a writing student and something I’m trying to get back into like, 10 years later. I’m super rusty right now but bare with moi.
-This article will have every major beat in the film that attributes to the progress of the story. So obviously, huge spoilers ahead. If you’re a student or a working writer, I hope you find this helpful as I had to rewatch the movie for like the 30th time (you’re god damn welcome). Feel free to fit these into whatever format you use to write or study structure.
-The movie was not viewed with English subtitles meaning I had to use my grade 2-6 Korean skills to translate. Most of the quotes from characters are paraphrased, and the movie’s symbols, allusions, metaphors, etc. are all interpreted by my 2 years of public school and 2 years of private school education in Korea.
Here is how this breakdown works:
–Bold underlined text is the act.
–Bold text is the step, scene, major beat or whatever you want to call it. Bold texts will be used to describe the skeleton of the story to fast forward the main actions from a scene and the meaning or purpose behind it.
-Plain texts are all the beats within the scene. Sometimes I will use it to describe props or colours or the direction behind the scene as well. This is the meat of the scene, more the juicier and fleshier the characters feel.
–Italic texts are my personal thoughts or opinion. They may not be accurate at all but it might give you some insight. Sometimes I might muddle this with the plain texts but I will try my best to keep things objective.
**When I first wrote these breakdown exercises back in the day, I used to appropriate the major beats into Christopher Vogler’s interpretation of the Hero’s Journey. I will do no such thang this time, as it’s easy to loop two major beats into one or vice versa and call it a step. It’s my personal belief that most modern screenplays are written in 3, 5, or sometimes 6 acts, but for simplicity I will try to keep my breakdowns into 3 acts with the exception of differentiating its teasers.
Teaser intros and outros are usually single scenes that serve as its own act and many writers utilize them to good effect. It could be argued that the final scene in this film could serve as its own act but for the sake of simplicity and laziness, I will only separate the teaser intro as its own as it’s more evident. **
–Daesu holds Suicidal Man by his tie off of an apartment rooftop. Daesu tells the Suicidal Man to listen to his story. Suicidal Man reluctantly accepts… Music here is really great. Sets up the movie to an exciting pace and to the next scene which is pretty hilarious.
–Rainy night, Daesu, intoxicated, is in the police station being interrogated for creeping on another man’s girlfriend, on his daughter’s birthday. Daesu explains that his name is Oh Daesu because ‘Lets just get past today/lets just live day to day’ (A play on words with his name in Korean). He is seen acting tough and rebellious until he goes quiet when he is joined by real gangsters. Eventually he is put in restraints until his best friend, Joohwan, comes to bail him out. Setting up our hero Daesu and what a piece of shit this dude is.
–Daesu boasts to his daughter over the payphone about the surprise he has prepared for her birthday but when Joohwan enters the booth to talk, Daesu mysteriously disappears. This happens after Joohwan enters the phone booth to talk to Daesu’s daughter and wife after being introduced as her ‘uncle Joohwan’ -they’re best friends. Joohwan walks into the rainy street to search for Daesu. After an anonymous crowd holding umbrellas dissipate, a shot reveals Daesu’s gift for his daughter, the angel wings shown in the previous scene, on the ground.
ENTER PRETTY SICK OPENING CREDITS WITH CLICKING LETTERS
–Daesu is in prison begging for an explanation for why he is imprisoned for 2 months and for how long he will be in for. Daesu’s voiceover narration comes in and questions whether if things would’ve been easier if the guards told him that he would be locked in for 15 years.
–Daesu’s average day imprisoned. Theme song plays with painting with text: “Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone.”The man in the painting looks identical to Daesu who stares at it with a forced grin. Daesu explains that when the music plays, sleeping gas is released into his cell. When he wakes up, his hair is cut, clothes changed, and room is cleaned. Although he doesn’t dig the hairstyle, he thanks them for the effort. Daesu watches TV: bodybuilding program, and the news -it’s revealed he has disappeared for 1 year and now he is a suspect for his wife’s murder. The news also reveals that Daesu had alcohol problems that contributed to domestic disturbance that affected his neighbours. Daesu’s finger prints have been found at the site of murder. Daesu’s mugshot with his age (30) is revealed. While listening to the news, Daesu notices an ant crawling out of his arm, he is later swarmed by ants. He is losing his sanity. Daesu rages, breaks the mirror, attempts suicide, but is dragged out by a mysterious man and assumed saved.
–3 years later, he sits in front of his desk while the TV plays writing down every wrong he may have done in his life. Daesu suggests to the audience that if they meet a man holding a purple umbrella at a payphone booth in a rainy night, learn to be closer to your TV. The TV is your time and calendar, school and home, church and friend, and also your girlfriend. He attempts suicide again. Daesu writes notepad after notepad on all the wrong he’s done. The setting of Act 1, and a direct showcase of what the underlying theme would be for Daesu’s character: “Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone.” Throughout the entire movie, we see Daesu forcing a smile.
–Daesu finds an extra chopstick in his meal. Cuckoo bird goes off in Daesu’s cell.He comments on how the prisoner next door will have to eat with a missing stick. Daesu starts training fueled by vengeance of who might have imprisoned him. Whoever it is, he vows to get revenge. Inciting incident where Daesu gains hope of escape.
-Series of shots, Daesu stick and pokes himself a line for every year he is imprisoned. It has been 6 years now. Daesu’s knuckles suggest he has been training rigorously, and he has been scraping against his wall with the extra chopstick. Time flies now that he has a mission.
-9 years, Daesu manages to get a whole brick out of the wall and finds there’s an opening outside.
-10 years, Daesu studies boxing from a match on TV.
-11-13 years, Daesu gradually goes from being able to poke his head inside the hole on his wall, to being able to extend his arm to start scraping against a new wall across from it. News on TV shows historic world events. Daesu continues to train boxing.
-14 years, Daesu is able to reach his fingers outside the second wall, he feels the rain. He weeps while licking the rain off his hand. He repeatedly tells himself that he will escape within a month but soon he starts worrying about societal responsibilities like money and food. He also wonders where the building he’s in is located and how high it is. Sleeping gas enters the room, Daesu quickly pushes his bed against the wall. The building signage reads ‘overseas education agency/institute.’
–Mysterious woman hypnotizes Daesu.
-Daesu comes out from a large brief case on top of an apartment rooftop with designer clothes, accessories, and his notepads. He then meets Suicidal Man from Teaser. Daesu walks up to Suicidal Man, who’s holding his pooch, frightened, and touches the man’s face. Suicidal Man mistakes Daesu’s instincts for human touch as compassion and asks ‘Even if I am worse than an animal (beast), don’t I have the right to live? (Korean figure of speech)’ Daesu repeats what the man says but the Suicidal Man takes it as mockery. Daesu repeats what the man says not out of mockery but out of ecstasy of being able to talk and listen again. The Suicidal Man attempts to jump but Daesu saves him by the tie –awesome iconic shot. Daesu tells the man he can die die after listening to his story. Cuts to Suicidal Man that had just finished listening to Daesu’s story. As Suicidal Man tries to tell Daesu about his story, Daesu abruptly gets up and leaves uninterested. First action Daesu does as he is released ends up in a person killing himself whether or not he was already suicidal as Daesu had the opportunity to save him. This becomes mirror image to a scene in the end.
–Daesu in an elevator with a woman. Recites theme. Daesu’s first encounter with the opposite sex out of prison. He creams his pants (alluded). He steals her sunglasses then leaves the apartment complex while the woman complains to the security guard. As Daesu walks away reciting the poem from his cell: “Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone.” The Suicidal Man falls on a car, smashing it. Daesu forces a grin, exits.
-Daesu in the city. Daesu picks a fight with thugs to test out his training. Everything in the city has changed. His home is gone. Phone numbers of friends and relatives have changed but it doesn’t matter since they know him as a fugitive that murdered his wife. Daesu takes a cigarette from a group of thugs and starts a fight. He is surprised by a new swear word he’s not heard before. TV does not teach you new swear words he says. Daesu beats the shit out of the thugs. When I first saw this movie when it came out I thought less of it because of the fight choreography -even the hammer scene looked too fake to me. The fight scenes, however grew on me over time. I think it adds to the surrealism and operatic drama of the tone.
–Daesu outside sushi shop. Daesu gets money and a phone. Outside the sushi shop, Daesu is able to expertly identify the fish in the tank and explain its temperaments. A homeless man approaches him and gives him money in cheques and a phone. The homeless man claims he knows nothing then walks away.
-Daesu inside sushi shop. Daesu meets sushi chef and first encounter with his captor. We hear Daesu speak for the first time in this scene. Daesu is not able to talk like he did in the teaser intro. He is monotone and robotic. Daesu requests to the sushi chef, that he wants to eat something that’s alive. Sushi chef mistakes Daesu for an old customer. They both admit (Daesu in his thoughts) that they seem familiar to each other (UH OH!). Daesu tells her that he found her via a TV program featuring the best sushi chefs in Korea. He also says how women because of warmer hands are not able to make sushi properly (sexist pig!). Daesu’s phone rings (same theme song as when the sleeping gas comes out in the cell.) Daesu’s first encounter with the villain. Daesu guesses who the man might be. The man behind the phone explains that he is a scientist studying Daesu and that who he is isn’t important but why he imprisoned Daesu is. Mystery man says “Whether sand or boulder, they will both eventually sink in water.” Daesu confronts the mystery man about the hypnosis he is under but gets no answer. Daesu devours the live octopus the sushi chef prepared. Sushi chef watches then tells Daesu that she might be an outlier since her hands are always cold. She holds Daesu’s hand, Daesu faints. The quote the mystery man says over the phone is also another on going theme.
–Daesu wakes up at Sushi chef’s house. They bond over shared solitude/loneliness. Sushi chef confronts Daesu whether the contents of his notepads are true. She then asks why he fainted when he had trained and took care of his body so well. Daesu explains that humans need sunlight as a source of essential vitamins. Sushi chef is weirded out by Daesu’s robotic speech. While she goes to use the toilet, Daesu jumps on her to attempt sex. Sushi chef fights back and hits Daesu with the butt of a sashimi knife. It is debatable whether to write Daesu’s attempt as rape or not since if he really wanted to he could’ve easily overpowered her. Since he backed out after getting hit on the head, I’ll categorize it as attempt for the time being. Daesu puts his clothes on and apologizes to her. Sushi chef admits her motive can be questionable since she brought him into her home and that she does in fact like him, however it was too rushed as they don’t even know each other’s names. She introduces herself as Mido, and that when she’s ready to have sex she will let Daesu know by singing a song by Min Hyekyeong. At that point she tells Daesu to not stop even if she says no. Mido asks if Daesu still sees ants coming out of his body. Mido says solitude (loneliness) is the reason why people see ants despite ants always seen in packs. She then claims that she has never been in such state -flashback of Mido with tears in an empty subway train with a giant ant on the other end.
–Mido helps Daesu investigate. Daesu’s daughter is in Korea looking for him. Mido disguised as a reporter investigates for Daesu’s daughter’s whereabouts. At a pawnshop (specializing in gold, silver, and clocks…ticktock ticktock…) Mido finds out that Daesu’s daughter had returned 5-6 years ago to find Daesu without any knowledge of Daesu’s involvement in his wife’s murder. Mido also hears that Daesu’s daughter has been adopted abroad by Swedish doctors and her Korean wasn’t as fluent anymore. Mido tells Daesu that she found the location and direction of his wife’s grave, and asks if he wants to go there. Daesu walks away and Mido chases after him only to find him that he is crying. Daesu slowly turns his crying into a forced grin then vows that he find and kill his captor.
–Daesu and Mido investigate Chinese restaurants. Daesu encounters ‘Evergreen’. Flashback of Daesu in his cell, where he is fed Chinese fried dumplings everyday. One day, he bites into a dumpling to find a piece of paper with a cut off word ‘Sung’ from presumably the restaurant’s name. Daesu and Mido investigate all the Chinese restaurants with the word ‘Sung’ in them. Series of shots of dumplings and Daesu eating (and puking) while Mido watches. At home, Mido is on an online chatting platform talking to a user named ‘Evergreen’. Mido’s user name is ‘Sashimi Princess’. ‘Evergreen’ seems to know about Daesu and calls him the ‘Count of Monte Cristo’. Daesu walks over to the computer and as he is seen on the camera, ‘Evergreen’ calls Daesu by his name and asks how life is in ‘a larger prison’. Daesu confronts ‘Evergreen’ on who he is, in which he responds ‘a lonely prince on a high tower. Don’t forget me, Sashimi Princess ^_^’. Mido reacts by saying she doesn’t know who ‘Evergreen’ is, but a random person that she talks about sushi with once in a while. Daesu tells Mido that he can’t trust her anymore, grabs a hammer then leaves. Daesu arrives at Chinese restaurant ‘Jachungyong’ (Purple Blue Dragon), which name confuses Daesu as it doesn’t make sense to him. This time it’s the right restaurant. Daesu chases after the delivery boy across the city to find the building he was imprisoned. Maybe my Korean isn’t the best at figuring out why the word ‘Sung’ he saw in prison relates to ‘Jachungyong’. Also side note, there’s a film award called the ‘Blue Dragon’ award in Korea.
–Daesu at prison with epic hammer. There’s a brief scene in the prison’s office before Daesu breaks in where the boss talks on the phone regarding their prison service. He says something like “if you select 6 or more months, the kidnapping fee is complimentary”. The way the prison boss talks on the phone is very salesman-like, in a good way where he’s really good at his job. Daesu tortures the boss by pulling out his teeth one by one with his hammer until he starts talking. The boss tells Daesu that he has never seen Daesu’s captor’s face but there is an audio recording. Daesu finds and takes the tape. Outside in the hallway, gangsters await him. Daesu allows the boss to get to the hospital but the rest are getting a hammer ass whooping – Epic side scrolling hammer fight scene occurs. Daesu smirks as more gangsters join the party. After defeating the gangsters and leaving the building, Daesu walks along the street bleeding and covered in blood. He comments about how he’s not able to ‘just live day to day’ like he did anymore as he has become a monster. Daesu worries he won’t be able to return to his normal self after the revenge is over. As he tries to cross the street, he faints but is helped by a man in a bucket hat. The man puts Daesu in a cab and gives him the address of Mido’s apartment. Daesu thanks the man, but the man calls Daesu by his name and smiles as the cab drives away.
–Daesu learns more about his captor. Daesu wakes up next to Mido who had seemingly passed out after patching up Daesu’s wounds. Outside the apartment window, someone takes photos of Daesu. Daesu plays the cassette tape he retrieved from the prison. The prison boss can be heard explaining how they can use schizophrenia medicine on their prisoners to suppress the prisoner from going completely insane. The prison boss is shocked to find out that the captor wants Daesu imprisoned for 15 years, the captor simply says that the reason is because ‘Daesu talks too much’.
–Daesu reunites with Juhwan at internet café. Second encounter with ‘Evergreen’. Daesu and Juhwan embrace at Juhwan’s basement internet café. Daesu plays the tape for Juhwan to see if he recognizes the voice. Juhwan makes a comment on how he doesn’t know any of the husband’s names for the countless married women Daesu had slept with. Juhwan helps Daesu create an online chatting account that Mido was seen on in a previous scene. Daesu questions if he really talked that much to make anyone this upset that he had to pay with 15 years of imprisonment. Juhwan searches the online chat platform for the username ‘Evergreen’ in which over 50 user emails show up. Just then the actual ‘Evergreen’ sends them a friend request. ‘Evergreen’ congratulates Daesu on his murder case being dismissed, but warns that Daesu must find salvation on his own. This ‘salvation’ line that I can’t properly paraphrase is another repetition Daesu and the villain repeat over the film.
–Daesu face to face with ‘Evergreen’. Ultimatum of finding out the truth in 5 days or Mido dies. Daesu goes back to Mido, ties her up and questions her why a woman would help a man that she has never met before. As Daesu proceeds to ask Mido who ‘Evergreen’ is, Juhwan phones to tell him that he found ‘Evergreen’s address. It is the apartment directly across from Mido’s. He runs across the street and enters the apartment. ‘Evergreen’ waits with his bodyguard and tells Daesu that Daesu needs to figure out who he is and why he was imprisoned. ‘Evergreen’ warns Daesu that he has 5 days to figure it out before he kills Mido. If Daesu can solve it within 5 days, ‘Evergreen’ will kill himself. Daesu attacks ‘Evergreen’ with a knife, and despite the bodyguard interruption, ‘Evergreen’ allows it. ‘Evergreen’ tells Daesu that if Daesu kills him, Daesu will never know the truth behind the imprisonment and thus his revenge not complete. Daesu tells ‘Evergreen’ to sit as he takes out his hammer for another classic torture session. However ‘Evergreen’ shows Daesu his chest scars and his remote control pacemaker, telling Daesu that he can easily kill himself at any given moment. Daesu places his hammer against ‘Evergreen’s temple but ‘Evergreen’ raises his remote control warning Daesu. ‘Evergreen’ tells Daesu that once Daesu has achieves his vengeance it will be good for his health but the solitude and pain will slowly return. ‘Evergreen’ exits hinting that Daesu has left Mido tied up in her apartment with the door wide opened. Daesu runs back. I always thought that maybe this scene had a bit of plot hole in the human psyche. Does the average person really want to know the ‘truth’ when they have a clear shot at killing the person for revenge? Either way, the story would’ve ended a happy ending and that’s not what Park Chanwook is about.
–Prison gangsters strike back. Daesu arrives back at Mido’s apartment. Mido is tied up with her titties hanging out, surrounded by the gangsters from the prison. She begs for Daesu’s help. Daesu submits before the prison boss, and the boss prepares to torture Daesu by taking out Daesu’s teeth. The boss tries to scare Daesu but Daesu starts to laugh and hiss like a maniac. Daesu sneaks a knife out of his jacket sleeve but just as he is about to pull it out the boss gets a call from ‘Evergreen’. ‘Evergreen’ sends the boss cash in a briefcase delivered by his bodyguard to stop the torture. The boss accepts and is about to leave with his gangsters but Daesu insists that they fight since they touched Mido’s boobs. The gangsters kick Daesu down then leave.
-Mido’s sobbing mating call and ‘Evergreen’ questions if Mido is really in love with Daesu. ‘Evergreen’ arrives to his high rise building greeted by one of his employees. The employee briefs him of how ‘Evergreen’s corporation is doing; rivals, stocks, senior management, etc. Cuts to Daesu driving Mido. Mido cries as she confirms that ‘Evergreen’ plans to kill every woman that Daesu loves and that she is one of them. Mido starts to sob sing that sex song she mentioned before. It takes a beat for Daesu to figure it out. The car is bugged, ‘Evergreen’ listens to it while taking a shower in his penthouse suite. Cut to ‘Evergreen’ getting his heart checked -he has a white doctor that came up to his penthouse suite so you know this guy is really balling hard. The bodyguard confirms that Mido has quit her job and that Daesu has left with her on a rental car. ‘Evergreen’ asks his bodyguard whether he thinks Mido has really fallen in love with Daesu. The way he brings up the question is if it is possible that a person can fall in love with another that easily. Raises the question whether love is genuine or can be cheaply manipulated.
-Daesu and Mido have sex. Daesu has fallen for Mido. Daesu and Mido enter a motel and they have sex. During sex, Mido tells Daesu that the sex is painful for her but she will endure it for him. Daesu seems to have came inside Mido. Cuts to a scene with Daesu blowdrying Mido’s hair while a shopping network program plays on the TV in the background. Well marbled pieces of steak are being displayed. Daesu claims that 15 years of imprisonment was worth it for Mido and questions whether if Mido would’ve loved Daesu if he was his old self. Sleeping gas enters the motel room as Daesu and Mido fall asleep on their bed. ‘Evergreen’ appears wearing a gas mask with an apparent big smile only felt through his eyes. ‘Evergreen’ lies down next to the sleeping couple and creepily drives his finger down Mido’s body. Oh, ‘Evergreen’s bodyguard is also standing in the corner of the room watching all this. Super creeps.
–Daesu finds out he is bugged. Upon waking up in the motel room, Daesu and Mido are spooked by a large wrapped gift box in the room. They open it to find the severed hand of the prison boss. This is a callback to what Daesu has said when the prison gangsters had Mido captured. Daesu tells the boss that he must cut off the boss’ hand off because he suspects that the boss had touched Mido’s breasts. Daesu and Mido march towards an electronics store to get help finding the wire. They get a scanner device that help retrieve the bug that was planted inside Daesu’s shoes. Mido questions whether ‘Evergreen’s motive was to put Daesu in a never-ending search for the truth. At Juhwan’s internet café, Daesu and the gang search online to find clues about ‘Evergreen’ but gets nothing useful until they see ‘Evergreen Oldboys Reunion blog’. It’s the high school that Daesu and Juhwan have attended. The name ‘Evergreen’ is an English translation of the word ‘Sanglok’ which the school is named.
–Daesu and Mido arrive at Evergreen to find out the ‘truth’. Daesu and Mido go through old year books to find ‘Evergreen’s high school photos and thus his real name, ‘Lee Woojin’. Daesu talks to Juhwan who’s still at his internet café over the phone. Daesu tells Juhwan that Woojin has later immigrated to USA but Juhwan does not remember who Woojin is. Mido finds an envelope planted inside one of the year books. Inside the envelope is a hair salon brochure that highlights the date July 5th which is the last day for Daesu find out the truth. Daesu also finds out that Woojin had an older sister named Sooah in the same year as Daesu and Juhwan. Juwan says he recognizes her name and that she was in the same class room as him. During this scene, presumably under Woojin’s notes, writings in Korean say that Woojin has been showing symptoms of depression due to his sister. As Daesu goes through an year book to find out more about Sooah, he finds that her face has been cut out from the pictures. Juhwan explains this is because she had died from suicide after jumping off a bridge. There’s a quick flashback to Sooah falling from the bridge very similar to the beginning scene with the suicidal man. Daesu asks if Juhwan knows why she committed suicide. Juhwan calls her a ‘rag’ which in Korean is used to say ‘slut’. He continues to say how she looked innocent but inside she was a total ‘rag’. Little did Juhwan know, Woojin aka ‘Evergreen’ had been inside the café all along listening in on them. Juhwan goes even further by saying how even dogs or cows (Korean figure of speech) had their way with her and how it was unfortunate that he had missed his opportunity. Juhwan snickers then moves on to tell Daesu that the Lee family were uber wealthy. Woojin has had enough. He breaks a CD rom into a shank then stabs Juhwan until Juhwan dies. Woojin goes on the line with Daesu to explain that his sister was not a ‘raggity slut’ and that Juhwan died because of Daesu’s actions.
-Series of shots. Daesu rage drives over the highway. Woojin is doing yoga in his penthouse suite while silently weeping. Daesu continues to rage drive in the highway while Mido looks visibly concerned for her safety. I believe Park Chanwook had commented on the yoga pose to resemble a bow in which was an allusion to a Greek God hence supporting the Oedipus theory.
-Daesu and Mido return to the prison. Daesu locks Mido in the prison. Daesu and Mido enter the dental clinic that prison boss has tipped off to during Mido’s kidnap. Daesu finds out prison boss’ contacts, his name is Chulwoong. Daesu and Mido return to the prison to talk to Chulwoong. Chulwoong shows off the upgrades he made to the cells: new TV with more channels. Mido is sad to find out that Daesu had spent 15 years in the cell, but Daesu says that it got better after the 11th year. Daesu returns the ring that was on Chulwoong’s severed hand. Against her will, Daesu requests to lock Mido inside the cell for her protection. As Daesu is escorted out, Chulwoong reveals that he had drugged Daesu about 3 times during Daesu’s stay for a hypnosis preparation: “sodium barbiturate?”.
–Daesu at hair salon from the brochure. Daesu arrives at the hair salon from the brochure that he found inside the year book. The hair salon owner recognizes Daesu. Daesu and the salon owner talk about Sooah. She defends Sooah by saying Sooah was not a promiscuous girl but that she did indeed have a secret lover. The salon owner phones her friend to see if anyone knows about Sooah’s secret lover. Meantime, Daesu zones in and out at the salon owner’s crossed legs. The salon owner hangs up the phone and tells Daesu that her friend told her that Daesu would know best who Sooah’s secret lover was. The salon door opens, making the bells on the door ring, a woman walks in wearing a skirt. Daesu checks out her legs. The door bells ring once again triggering a flashback.
-Daesu’s walk down memory lane. Bells ring; but transitions into a bell on a bike. Sooah is ringing her bike bell while riding it around the school yard. A young Daesu is smoking a cigarette while hanging upside down on pushup bars. He checks out Sooah. A nun approaches young Daesu and scolds him for smoking a cigarette, but young Daesu responds back by saying that he is moving to Seoul later that day and to mind her own business. Sooah parks her bike and sits on a bench next to where young Daesu is lurking around. Young Daesu tries to get Sooah’s attention, while Sooah reads an English version of ‘The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.’ Sooah recognizes Daesu, and Daesu sits next to her. Sooah says that she heard rumours that Daesu is popular with girls, and Daesu flirts back: “The thing about rumours…”. Sooah tells Daesu that she heard that he is funny and requests a funny story. As Daesu lights up another cigarette and gets closer to Sooah to tell her a story, Sooah checks her watch then runs off.
-Series of shots. Daesu (old version) walks around the school and sees his flash backs occur to him in real time. He follows young Daesu around the school as young Daesu discovers a boy running to an unknown destination. Young Daesu chases the boy and old Daesu runs after young Daesu.
–Sooah’s secret lover. Young Daesu and old Daesu arrive at a top floor science class where the mystery boy is playfully chasing around Sooah with a camera shooting her. Young Daesu and old Daesu both watch through a cracked window. The mystery boy and Sooah play around until he requests Sooah to sit on a desk and to cross her legs; hence Daesu zoning in and out on crossed legs in the previous scene. The boy then approaches Sooah and takes her panties off. Sooah continuously rejects the boy’s sexual advances but eventually lets him suck on her boobs (Wow). Sooah takes out a hand mirror from her bag and watches her boobs get played with by the boy’s nose and smiles. As she browse around with the mirror, to her surprise she finds out that young Daesu had been a naughty little Peeping Tom. She freaks out, drops and breaks her mirror.
–Young Daesu spreads a rumour before moving to Seoul. Young Daesu and friend are helping Daesu’s family with moving. A clock is tied up on top of the load. Young Daesu tells his friend of what he saw, but doesn’t know the girl’s name other than that she rode a red bike. Young Daesu tells his friend not to tell anyone.
-July 5th, judgement day: Daesu believes he found out the ‘truth’ but is not satisfied. He wants to kill Woojin. Daesu returns to Mido at the prison and tells her about what he found out: Sooah and her secret lover, the rumour he accidently spread, and the meaning behind July 5th, the day Sooah committed suicide. Mido believes that since Daesu has found out the truth, Woojin will not kill Mido and that the journey for vengeance has ended. However, Daesu says that vengeance has taken over his life and leaves to kill Woojin. During this scene, Daesu mentions lines that ‘Evergreen’ has told him: “both sand and boulder eventually sink”, and another line that I didn’t write on here in detail about how “one has to find salvation on his own”. The salvation line had clues about Woojin’s corporation name, and there’s also the clue in the online messaging platform where ‘Evergreen’ claimed himself to be a lonely prince in a high tower. Anyway Daesu finds out where Woojin is located through these clues.
-Daesu arrives at the highrise building. As he tries to go to the penthouse suite, a password prompts in which he fails to get the password. The elevator alarm goes off but Woojin and his body guard arrive to enter the correct password. They ride the elevator up together. In a flashback to Mido’s cell, Daesu tells Mido to wish for ‘a younger man next time’. This dialogue comes off like the numerous dark humour employed in this script, but it is also to show that Daesu understands that he might die. On the ride up in the elevator, Woojin’s bodyguard hands Woojin a pistol. Another flashback to Mido’s cell, Mido tells Daesu to make Woojin beg for his life. In the elevator, Daesu tells Woojin that Woojin slept with his older sister. Woojin somewhat taken back glances at his bodyguard as if the bodyguard didn’t know. Last flashback to Mido’s cell: Daesu sees Mido’s toothbrush and razor, and he walks towards them.
-Penthouse fight. The elevator opens to the penthouse. Woojin and bodyguard walk ahead as Woojin commands his other guards to attack Daesu. Daesu takes out Mido’s toothbrush which he broke in half to stab and kill Woojin’s two guards. He then walks towards Woojin’s bodyguard to fight but the bodyguard suggests they talk instead.
-Old boys. Daesu presents the ‘truth’ to Woojin. Woojin who was taking a shower, comes out nude showing a cross tattooed above his buttocks. Daesu repeats that Woojin had slept with his older sister and that he had started a rumour that eventually triggered Sooah’s suicide. Woojin ignores Daesu as he changes into clothes. Woojin greets Daesu as old boys, but Daesu calls Woojin a coward for erasing his memory while telling him to find the truth. Daesu tells Woojin that since he has found out the truth that he has won Woojin’s game, and that Woojin should kill himself. Cut to Mido, who is seen kneeling on her bed praying. There’s a near identical painting on the wall of a girl praying with texts that read ‘Another day, safely’. This is a contrary statement to what Daesu has claimed in the beginning to what his name has meant and how he lived his life day to day. Woojin tells Daesu that it wasn’t the hypnosis why Daesu forgot about Sooah’s suicide, but because Daesu just didn’t care. (Since he just lives day to day, right?) Woojin continues to scold Daesu. He tells Daesu that his rumour had evolved to the point that Sooah was pregnant and that Sooah eventually started believing that she was. Strangely enough Sooah really started showing symptoms of pregnancy as her belly grew bigger…Woojin claims that Daesu’s tongue has impregnated his sister’s uterus. Daesu self-righteously holds up a picture of Sooah off Woojin’s wall and acts like he understands what Woojin must have gone through and why Woojin killed his own sister. Woojin uncontrollably snickers at Daesu’s stupidity. As Daesu continues his wild charade, Woojin stops him and says that he has a better story to tell.
-Daesu learns of the real truth that should be in question. Woojin tells Daesu of a hypnosis method that allows persons under said hypnosis to act or react a certain way under scenarios. Woojin reveals that both Daesu and Mido coincidentally were susceptible to hypnosis and that they have been hypnotized to fall in love with each other. Woojin goes step by step on setting up contraptions according to the hypnosis to bring Daesu and Mido together. Woojin criticizes Daesu’s investigation by saying Daesu has been inquiring the wrong question: why did Woojin imprison Daesu for 15 years? The right question to ask was: why did Woojin release Daesu after 15 years. Woojin takes out a laser pointer and guides Daesu around his suite to the clue while humming the theme song. He excitedly shakes the laser pointer at a gift box on top of his desk. Daesu opens the box to find a photo album of Daesu’s family life: photos of his daughter growing up and eventually turning into the Mido he knows (and banged), including photos of Daesu and Mido after his release. Daesu shocked, looks at the box cover which has a mirror inside it with the text: “Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone.” Mido is sitting in her cell wearing the angel wings that Daesu had planned on gifting her during her 3rd birthday from the beginning of the film. Chulwoong enters Mido’s cell with a gift box. He smiles.
–Daesu fights judo expert. Daesu enraged by the truth charges Woojin, but Woojin’s bodyguard continuously judo throws him all across the suite, making him land on all the glass items in Woojin’s home. Daesu doesn’t give up. He smiles as he fights the bodyguard. Somehow, Daesu manages to stab the bodyguard in the ear. Angered, the bodyguard attempts to kill Daesu with the same scissors that he got stabbed in the ear with. Woojin calls out to the bodyguard to stop, but the bodyguard can’t hear. Woojin walks up to the bodyguard and shoots him in the head before Daesu gets killed.
-Vengeance complete. Daesu begs for forgiveness. Daesu asks whether Mido knows the truth. Woojin again batters Daesu with the harsh truth that Chulwoong still works for him even after getting his hand cut off. Woojin had bought out the prison building for Chulwoong as a favour so he doesn’t have to relocate his business. Daesu phones Mido via Chulwoong. Daesu begs a crying Mido not to open the box. During this scene, Daesu’s speech is back to normal. He has turned back into Daesu from Monster, his alter ego. Daesu breaks down in front of Woojin. He falls to his knees, weeping, begging to keep the truth from Mido. Daesu continues to beg, singing their old high school song, committing to be Woojin’s dog and acting like a dog, barking and licking Woojin’s shoes. Woojin can’t control his happiness and laughter. Finally, Daesu finds the scissors he stabbed the bodyguard with and cuts off his tongue. Woojin phones Chulwoong to call off Mido from opening the box. Woojin points his pistol against Daesu’s head then admits that he will no longer find any greater pleasure to live.
–Flawless victory, and the question of love. Woojin gets up. Instead of shooting Daesu, he drops his remote control for his pacemaker. Woojin walks away from Daesu towards his elevator. Daesu presses the remote control, but it’s actually a play button for an audio recording of Daesu and Mido having sex. Woojin smiles initially then glares disappointingly at Daesu before getting in the elevator. Daesu weeps. Woojin tells Daesu that him and Sooah had loved each other despite knowing the truth. As the elevator door is about to shut, Woojin questions whether Daesu and Mido are able to do the same. This is one of Woojin’s skeptic on love as he couldn’t believe how easily he was able to manipulate two humans fall in love with each other. For Woojin and Sooah, it was forbidden love in which they both knew the consequences but willingly proceeded. Will his two experimental guinea pigs be able to do the same? Woojin exits.
–Woojin’s flashback and suicide. Woojin cries in the elevator. He hallucinates to a flashback of a younger version of himself holding Sooah up by the arm as she is about to fall from the bridge. Identical scene from the beginning with the suicidal man, instead Woojin is trying to save the person he cares for; unlike Daesu who cared for no one. As young Woojin is holding onto Sooah for her life, Sooah pleads to Woojin to let go since her death will make the rumours be forgotten, making life easier for Woojin. Young Woojin weeps and shakes his head ‘no’, but Sooah reaches for Woojin’s camera to take an epic pre-suicide selfie and asks him to not forget about her (how could he?). Sooah claims she doesn’t regret anything then falls to her death. There’s a cool little foreshadow here where as Woojin lets go of Sooah’s arms, his hands slowly folds into a slight gun shape before folding completely. Snapback to reality, Woojin blasts himself in the elevator. I honestly don’t understand Sooah’s logic of how killing herself would’ve solved the humiliation Woojin would had to live with. A good ol’ fashion abortion could’ve solved it, no?
–Daesu meets hypnotist. Daesu narrates a letter he wrote and thanks the reader for finishing his horrendous story. It’s revealed that the letter was for the hypnotist and Daesu had written it since he had cut off his tongue and can’t talk. Daesu and the hypnotist sit by a scenic snow patch surrounded by mountains. The hypnotist admits that she had no desire to help Daesu but the final line in his letter had convinced her otherwise: “Even if I am worse than an animal (beast), don’t I have the right to live?” Paraphrased, but it’s a callback from the scene with the suicidal man. The hypnotist warns that the process may cause problems with his memories, but Daesu nods to proceed. She hypnotizes Daesu.
–Daesu hypnotized to forget ‘Monster’ and the truth. Daesu is being hypnotized. Daesu is in Woojin’s penthouse suite, standing next to a tape player/recorder. Daesu marches towards a shattered window with a city view. The hypnotist tells him that once the bell rings Daesu will split into two persons. The first Daesu is Monster (this is something along the line he calls himself throughout the film and also his username is on the online chatting platform); Monster knows the darkest truth. When the bell rings again, Monster turns around and walks away. Each step makes Monster age by a year, and eventually Monster dies of old age. The hypnotists assures Daesu that Monster’s death was a peaceful one. With that it’s assumed Daesu is able to erase his memory and forget about the truth. The hypnotist wishes Daesu luck.
–Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, you cry alone. Daesu wakes up in the snow where he had been hypnotized. Mido finds Daesu in the woods and helps him get warm by rubbing his hands. Mido asks who Daesu was with, but mysteriously there is only one foot tracks. Was she even there? Mido embraces Daesu and tells him that she loves him. Daesu smiles but eventually breaks into tears. Daesu’s choice in getting hypnotized in the end is concurrent with the theme. He chooses to suppress the horrors of Woojin’s revenge by erasing his memory of the truth so he and Mido can live happily.
And there you have it, Every Beat of Old Boy. It’s one of my favourite Korean films of all time and it’s a film that sticks with me when I try to write my own projects.
The attention to detail with repetitions on visual symbols such as tapes, clocks, and bells to represent recording, memories, erasing, overriding, and time are effective ways to convey and strengthen central themes and something that every director should take note on. The use of first person shots, where the viewer looks through the character’s eyes to create closer personal bond is another device I came to appreciate over time. The way you are able to look right at the homeless man, the suicidal man, the prison boss, or even Mido during the motel hallway scene through Daesu’s eyes make ‘Monster’ and the world he’s in, more human and believable. Visual effects are done in minimal fashion and it’s what I believe is the way to go as computer special effects tend to age terribly. Computer graphics are only used in dimly lit scenes which make it easier for the FX to blend in more naturally. Now that I have freshly finished what may be like the 20th time rewatching this movie, I have to say I absolutely love the compositing in the editing. The split screens and the layering of foreground and backgrounds are so cool to look at and visually pleasing. As for the dialogues, it’s a shame that non-Koreans may not be able to understand the subtle dry, dark humour in the tone. From the opening scene in the police office to the final face off, there are some insanely funny, dark moments that most Korean audience identify as Park Chanwook-style dialect. Finally, I love the theme because it’s something that’s realistic and relatable enough to apply in anyone’s life. Whether or not the results of things may hurt you, the world only laughs with you when you laugh; when you cry, you cry alone.
I would love to hear back on what you think of my first breakdown. Shoot me a message to discuss or to let me know where I went wrong!