Rex Reed vs. OldBoy

Oldboy, Park Chan-wook

A film as brutal and unflinching as OldBoy isn’t really the type to leave behind a wide range of opinions. Most folks seem to either love it or hate it. However, Rex Reed really hates it, and he’s not too subtle with his dislike. In fact, his review is so vitriolic that he implies that all of South Korea is responsible for this “noxious helping of Korean Grand Guignol.” In his review (Warning: Contains potential spoilers), he asks:

What else can you expect from a nation weaned on kimchi, a mixture of raw garlic and cabbage buried underground until it rots, dug up from the grave and then served in earthenware pots sold at the Seoul airport as souvenirs?

I sincerely doubt he meant those words in any sort of racist or prejudiced manner — he probably thought he was just being witty — but I wonder if he would be willing to make such sweeping ethnic generalizations for a film made by an African-American or Jewish filmmaker?

Elsewhere, he continues his South Korean slam, labelling it a “nation of emerging cinematic schlock.” Hmmm… has he seen Musa? Or JSA? Or Friend? Or Failan?

This isn’t the first time that Reed has been something of a curmudgeon. Remember when he slammed David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, et al. as a bunch of hacks? As was the case with that rant, his OldBoy screed becomes so vitriolic at times that it’s difficult to take seriously.

And here’s the real clincher: Reed admits that he didn’t even see the entire film, but left before the film’s final act (and if I was really nitpicky, I’d point out that he got several of the film’s details wrong). Granted, it’s doubtful he’d have a different opinion had he sat through the entire film, but the fact that he didn’t watch the entire film does hurt his review’s credibility a bit in my book.

It’s not that I’m so pro-OldBoy that I think it’s an absolutely perfect film (though I did like it very much). I’ve read some very thoughtful criticisms of the film, and I can definitely see where they are coming from. It’s a powerful and accomplished film, but definitely not a perfect one. However, Reed’s little rant is so over-the-top, so incensed and outraged, that it would be amusing if not for the rather troubling, shortsighted comments he makes about Korean culture.

Thanks to Twitch for the 411.