Old Boy is a korean mystery thriller directed by the great Park Chan-Wook and stars the very talented and famous Choi Min-sik as the leading character, Oh Dae-su. It is the second movie in Park’s epic revenge series, “The Vengeance Trilogy.” The setting takes place in South Korea although it doesn’t seem like any specific city is mentioned or revealed. Overall, this movie is a cult-classic and just as good as the other two movies in the trilogy which I also recommend. The movie draws on a lot of symbolism throughout.
One such symbol is the television Dae-su had while in confinement for 15 years. The television represents an anchor for Dae-su’s sanity. It was everything to him for those 15 years. It was his best friend and his lover. Without it he would surely go insane, at least more than already shown. Also the television is like a symbol of his room. The room is his jail, while television is sometimes represented as a prison as well for the mind.
Another symbol seen are the ants. The ants represent a desire for group. Dae-su is all alone and the ants are a collective species representing his desire for human contact. We also see a single ant on the subway in Mi-do’s dream. The ant is a mirror image of her as we see them both sitting alone in an empty train car. This implies that she too knows the horrors of loneliness.
A third symbol seen is Dae-su’s weapon of choice, a hammer. This hammer is a crude and simple, unconventional weapon. This shows exactly what Dae-su is after his confinement, crude and unconventional. Leave it to him to use such a weapon when there are plenty of better options.
Another symbol I didn’t notice at first but saw more of after reading notes from the director online is the relation of Dae-su to Oedipus in Greek mythology. Oedipus is a character that gouges out his own eyes to avoid seeing the world after committing incest. Dae-su gouges cuts off his own tongue so he can’t speak of his sin of sleeping with his own daughter.