Saturday, 15 July 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2003: Yoo Ji-Tae in Oldboy

Yoo Ji-Tae did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lee Woo-jin in Oldboy.

Oldboy is the second film in Park Chan-wook's thematic revenge trilogy. That revenge on the surface appears to be based around the man Oh Dae-su's (Choi Min-sik) search for the man who imprisoned him for 15 years. Unfortunately for Oh Dae-su the real revenge at the center of the film is not Oh Dae-su's for that man, but rather that man's for Oh Dae-su. That man being Lee Woo-jin played by Yoo Ji-Tae. After Dae-su is released from his strange prolonged prison sentence he slowly received messages from a man, that man being Lee. They are slight initially and as mysterious as the prison itself. We only hear Yoo a few times, and see his eyes in a couple of straightforward messages. We only finally see him in the flesh rather suddenly when he initially appears to be a helpful bystander who offers aid to Dae-su after a fight. It is there where we first see Yoo's bright smile he brings to the role, such a congenial grin as he almost treats Oh Dae-su as this old friend, ensuring that he will survive that violent encounter.

Yoo Ji-Tae's casting and his performance offer quite an atypical villain for the film, as he first off he just does not look like this truly sinister man just by a glance then there is Yoo's portrayal. Yoo does not try to exert an overt menace with his performance, and again in fact there is this certain friendliness at times, though in reality more of a familiarity that Yoo expresses. Yoo does not do this to undercut his performance, no instead it amplifies in the way he creates this truly unique antagonist with Lee. That familiarity ends up being rather off-putting in one way Yoo alludes to the way that Lee knows so much that Dae-su does not, far too much in fact. There is even more though as Yoo suggests something even deeper than that even. Of course this also becomes duplicitous as Yoo makes that smile get under your skin as there is an innate smugness that Yoo brings, which again goes further than just making him this smug snake. Yes that is there, but again Yoo makes it seem all the more sinister since the smugness suggest his complete control of every situation in the film, and is imposing in his own way by creating Lee as this man who almost seems impossible to decipher while he apparently has everything deciphered around him.

Yoo, despite being very consistent in creating this sense of certainty in Lee, he is never one note. There are these brilliant edges he brings to his performance, moments that he uses so effectively to allude to more about Lee's nature and his real relationship with Oh Dae-su. These often are slight moments, where we see a real burning hatred, these are in small moments when he turns away for just a second, in those moments though are usually related to either when Oh Dae-su reveals absolutely no knowledge of why Lee is doing this to him, or later on when he begins to call back the memory. In those times though there is that intensity of a hatred, fitting to a man bent on revenge, yet Yoo takes it further as there a certain somberness in this anger reflecting his sorrow connected to the revenge. Eventually we do learn that Oh Dae-su caused a rumor, a true rumor, that Lee and his sister were having an incestuous relationship which eventually lead to her committing suicide. It is in the final confrontation where the film does reveal that it has always been about Lee's revenge, not Oh Dae-su's.

Lee brings throughout the scene that domination of what could be the noble avenger if it was not so twisted, as he breaks Oh Dae-su down with such confidence revealing his plan of revenge that entails Oh Dae-su unknowingly sleeping with his own daughter. The revelation causes a full mental breakdown in Oh Dae-su that leads him to beg Lee not to reveal the information to his daughter. Yoo is brutally effective by how he controls every moment and reveals what that satisfaction and familiarity came from. As Yoo presented as Lee knowing his plan was working but also conveying a certain connection through their mutual incest. Yoo is amazing in the final moment as he laughs over Oh Dae-su bringing such a joy in a man who has apparently gotten everything he desired, and essentially fulfilled what had become his life goal. Again though since this is his revenge story it ends as so many do in what is my favorite scene in this great performance. That being when Lee enters the elevator to leave Oh Dae-su alone in his misery with that smile of pure elation. Lee though hears recording of the pain of his actions which causes his mind to drift back to his sister's suicide which he was present for. Yoo is heartbreaking in his painful demise of that smile into such anguish, the anguish that is all he is left with after having avenged the death, which naturally leads to his own demise. Yoo Ji-Tae's performance here is outstanding piece of work as he successfully is so unlike what you'd expect from villain in a revenge film, yet also succeeds in creating this idea that Lee is living out his own revenge through his surprisingly poignant though still chilling portrait of a man consumed by vengeance in his own way.

21 comments:

Charles Heiston said...

I immensely agree. This is a perfect supporting performance to Min Sik's out of this world lead turn. So glad Yoo got the upgrade here.

And i wouldn't mind if he takes the win.

Calvin Law said...

Definitely a performance that grows with re-watches.

Luke Higham said...

Top 5 prediction
1. Astin
2. Bettany
3. Yoo
4. Caan
5. Isaacs

Calvin Law said...

Louis: your thoughts on the editing and music in Yoo's final scene. I've always thought the two young actors kind of tarnish the scene a bit, but Yoo's performance, and how the scene cuts between his past and present self, is brilliant.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm predicting Yoo to take the win. His performance is just too fascinating to resist, even on just a conceptual level.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Can you please lower Copley's score for the remake? That is legitimately one of the most mesmircally awful performances of the decade.

Calvin Law said...

Also, a Korean Godfather film in the 2000s:

Vito: Choi Min-sik
Sonny: Lee Byung-hun
Michael: Ha Jung-woo
Fredo: Hwang Jung-min
Connie: Kim Min-hee
Kay: Lee Young-ae
Tom: Kim Sang-kyung
Young Vito: Yoo Ji-tae
Clemenza/Frank: Song Kang-ho

Luke Higham said...

Copley was a 4 originally then went down to a 3.

Calvin Law said...

Robert: As someone who likes Copley in general, I agree that it's bad. Although the utterly bizzare way they handled his character' motivations didn't help either. I appreciate how Spike Lee tried to go in a different direction but it just didn't do much for me.

Calvin Law said...

And Byung Hee-bong as Hyman Roth.

Charles Heiston said...

Michael: I expect him to take the win too. I love Astin & Bettany would still be my win for the moment but Yoo's work here is a perfect villain performance.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

I agree completely right down to the other actors, but the direction, Yoo's performance, the perfection of the editing and the score more than make up for it for me. Again the editing just creates such spellbinding sequence building to its blunt deeply emotional end, I also have a special affection for the sound of the gun cocking with the miming of the action. That is all amplified by the score with "Farewell My Lovely" being such a beautiful yet haunting piece of music.

Robert:

Well I'd really have to re-watch it again to go any lower, but I struggle to find any motivation to do so since there's even a good version of the film to watch instead.

Calvin Law said...

Yes the mining action is ingenius.

Well I've just gotten to Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and holy crap is he unnerving.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: your thoughts on the Breaking Bad episode 'Phoenix'. Man, Cranston is a fan-freaking-tastic actor.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Calvin: I agree wholeheartedly. Cranston's reaction at the end of 'Phoenix' may be one of my favorite TV acting moments ever.
Louis: Do you prefer Yoo's performance in Oldboy, or Choi's.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Also, I'm guessing Yoo takes the win. Astin is indeed my win, but Yoo would definitely be a worthy winner.

houndtang said...

I always thought he was a bit miscast as he is way too young to have been a school contemporary of Oh Dae Sue. But this was a deliberate choice by the director.

Calvin Law said...

houndtang: I read something about it being that Oh Dae Su had aged whereas Lee Woo-jin had stayed in the past. I always thought he was a bit miscast in that regard too but Park Chan-wook likes to do things his own way.

Calvin Law said...

Lol I just realized Barb from Stranger Things got an Emmy nomination. Memes are taking over the world!

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

I saw that too. I took quite a bit of time to process it xD
I mean, while Shannon Purser was endearing in her brief screentime,an individual nomination is a bit much.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Phoenix - (Effectively takes Walt to that beyond the pale the moment, which is delivered so well by Cranston's final scene in that episode as we see the morality of it play in his head as the moment occurs. The episode though is terrific one besides that with the Jesse/Jane relationship which is painful in that the love is real yet so is the terrible destructiveness of it all. That is only made all the more difficult through her father who is so well realized through John de Lancie's underrated performance.)

But where was Benny the diner owner!!! In all seriousness I thought he made an even stronger impression for what was such a thankless role.

Tahmeed:

Don't exactly prefer either since both are so great, I guess the slight edge to Choi for the sheer weight he has to carry on his shoulders.

houndtang:

I can see that but I like how it works since it creates such a distinction between the two with Min-sik representing a man where the years have worn him away against the man who has breezed through them. And hey it's not totally unrealistic, if say you had a Tom Cruise in Yoo's role, and say a Val Kilmer in Choi's.