"The image, the imagined, the imaginary--these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as social practice [. . .] a form of work [. . .] and a form of negotiation between sites of agency ("individuals") and globally defined fields of possibility" (Appadurai 5).
Oldboy can beautifully illustrate Appadurai's discussion of disjunctures and flows through his various '-scapes'. But first, it must be understood as a work of the imagination. To align the two discussions--those of imagination and those of flows--one could define a film as a flow of images. These images are scraped from cultural memory, that "synchronic warehouse of cultural scenarios" (4).
Oh Dae-Su had no choice but to construct himself (or his character?) out of these sorts of imaginary flows. Fed on television and loneliness, what else was he supposed to do?
If we follow Appadurai further, he tells us flows occur "in and through the growing disjunctures between ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes" (11). What sort of disjuncture created this initial flow? It is probably impossible to give a complete answer, but some disjuncture between the ethnoscape depicted in the original Japanese manga and that experienced by Park Chan-wook may have been the start. It also took the push of capital to create the film, and from there, to broaden its flow--to spread it to America, to Japan, to England. Appadurai's disjunctures are places of vitality and creation.
What sort of sin could Oh Dae-Su have committed in the past to deserve imprisonment? He grows bitter, trapped in that cell. He grows stronger. It is absolutely inexplicable, yet there must be an explanation, an origin.
These disjunctures are also places of deterritorialization. It is through these disjunctures that a Korean movie can be based on a Japanese comic book and sell on DVD for $25 in America. Who could've imagined. It is no wonder that Appadurai writes "imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order" (5). Vitality is a will to deterritorialize, to see the basic building blocks of the world in whole new ways. It takes imagination to market an unsettling Korean film to Americans.
And it would take equal imagination to let Oh Dae-Su free. And to plan out so many days of his life, so far in advance, and keep him stumbling along, as if he is actually free. The prisoner is deterritorialized--he is no longer bound to his cell, and to his television--but he is instantly reterritorialized. A prisoner in a larger cell, with even more surveillance.
"An important fact of the world we live in today is that many persons on the globe live in such imagined worlds (and not just in imagined communities) and thus are able to contest and sometimes even subvert the imagined worlds of the official mind and of the entrepreneurial mentality that surround them" (7).
Oh Dae-Su has rebuilt his body well. The flows of television that make the average man weak made him quite strong. And he destroys his captor.
But one must question just how much of Oh Dae-Su's world is his own. How much is prearranged, chosen for him by the very man he kills?