Oldboy [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Palisades Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Christopher Brown (11th April 2010).
The Film

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.

Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) an unassuming everyman and a drunk is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. Given no reason as to why or who put him there he is left to wallow in doubt and ignorance alone with only a TV for company. During his incarceration he discovers his wife has been murdered and young daughter put in to foster care and he is named the primary suspect. This is the catalyst that forever changes Dae-su. Driven by his lust for revenge he devotes his waking hours to turning himself in to a weapon to punish those who have not only wronged him, but destroyed his family.

As inexplicably as his capture and incarceration Dae-su is released, and given 5 days to discover why he was imprisoned or suffer the dire consequences. Thus begins one of the greatest and most intelligent revenge films of all time.

Never one to shy away from the harsh realities of his created worlds director Chan-wook Park really shines in this film. "Oldboy" is violent, dirty, and the desperation of Dae-su is almost tangible. "Oldboy" is a morality tale at its core and as a result doesn't bask in the various acts of retribution Dae-su inflicts on is enemies. Rather it brings in to high relief the irrationality of the actions taken not only by Dae-su but practically every core character. When compared to "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002) its clear to see that Park has grown as a story teller. "Oldboy" is a revenge film, but unlike either of the two films book ending the trilogy it is a far more balanced piece where we see the far reaching consequences of ones actions, both intentional and accidental. The constant use of flashbacks never feel forced, and unlike a lot of film that use this technique it feel natural and is rarely if ever confusing. The story itself is fairly straight forward but is constructed in such a way that any potential revelation is only ever glimpsed and until the end never fully seen.

Oldboy is a visual powerhouse, tone changes, flawless and inventive framing, harsh edits and soft reveals set the mood for each scene. Chan-wook Park fills his shots with stunning, bazaar, and often startling imagery. Park ensures that the audience is always visually engaged with not one wasted shot whether it be a snow covered exterior or a shadow drenched corridor.

I have deliberately not touched on specifics both in plot and character as to give anything away would lessen the initial impact this powerful film has. "Oldboy" is a triumph and should be seen by everyone despite its unique vision, and shifting chronology. It is a violent film and pulls no punches when displaying the savagery on screen, but than that it is a films driven by the performances. Min-sik Choi anchors the film with ease his performance displays true artistry. His transformation from drunken loser to hardened killing machine is so natural that the evolution isn't jarring as it so easily could have been.

To anyone who hasn't yet experienced "Oldboy" or is new to Park's unique vision prepare yourself for an unusual film and an intentionally ambiguous ending. The eventual confrontation between Dae-su and his captor has a logical albeit bizarre climax, but it then takes an odd turn that some people may find jarring and unsatisfying. As I mentioned the last scene is intentionally ambiguous and will no doubt leave some viewers confused. For me though the films couldn't have ended on a better note. For a film of such bleakness it not a chore to watch. In fact Park so perfectly balances his central themes of sorrow, revenge and regret. That ultimately you are left with a feeling of closure despite open-endedness of the closing scenes.

Video

Presented in 2.35:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 the transfer on this Blu-Ray edition of "Oldboy" is very good but not great.
A lot of the issues seem to be due to the source Tartan has used. There is a bit of pixelization, and some video artefacts/noise apparent in various parts of the film. That being said the picture is far superior to the Tartan DVD version I also own. Tartan have done a good job at cleaning up the picture without washing out any of the fine detail. Blacks are not a deep or rich as I would have expected from a Blu-ray release there is noticeable noise in the deep shadows. Once again it isn't a huge distraction but it is definitely there. There are also occasional but not dramatic colour tone shifts in a couple of outdoor scenes. Its a shame that a little more time and effort wasn't put in to really giving the film a top notch polish...
To put it basic terms the picture quality is a substantial improvement over the DVD release and despite its shortcomings the picture is still impressive and well worth buying even if you already own the film on DVD.

Audio

The Audio options include Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, Korean or English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and Korean or English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The DTS-HD is excellent. Punchy and crisp. Dialogue is never drowned out and the hard impacts during the combat are suitably up front. The surround mix is subtle but expertly done focusing more on ambient noises and atmosphere. City scenes feel populated and suitably busy with all the sounds of the urban environment coming from every direction without feeling too syrupy or muddy. There were no noticeable sound artefacts, and the hiss from the DVD version has been completely cleaned away. I have not reviewed the English language version as I see no reason why anyone should bother with it. I feel secure in saying any audiophiles out there will be well pleased with the exceptional job Tartan has done here.
Subtitles are included only in English.

Extras

While at first glance I wasn't impressed with the selection of Extras I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the audio commentary tracks, and almost all points lost due to the lack of a making-of or any documentaries are made up for. There are also deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. Now that Palisades Tartan are distributing this title, they have dropped the standard DVD edition that was previously included when it was simply a Tartan release. Below is a closer look at the supplements on this Blu-ray.

The director audio commentary (Korean with English subtitles) with Chan-wook Park is brilliant, I would almost go as far as saying it is one of the best director commentaries I have ever experienced. Chan-wook Park gives insight in to his vision of the "Oldboy" universe. Everything from his experience with the graphic novel to day to day decisions around particular scenes are covered here. Well worth giving the film a second run to hear what the man has to say.

There's also a director and cast audio commentary (Korean with English subtitles) which is more of a roundtable discussion than a strict commentary here, Chan-wook Park MC's an open discussion with three cast members, Min-sik Choi, Hye-jeong Kang, and Ji-tae Yu. Quite a different take on the making of than the director's commentary. Here the cast discuss day to day experiences, and thoughts on particular scenes, and some entertaining insights on what it was like to work with each other during the filming.

The third track is with the director and cinematographer audio commentary (Korean with English subtitles), the final commentary is for any fan of filmmaking while it isn't as engaging as the other two it more than makes up for it in density of detail. Chan-wook Park and cinematographer Chung-Hoon Chung discuss the colour choices, angles, framing, and almost every detail of each scene. Due to its dearth of techno-speak it can be a little hard to get through, but I'm sure that any fan of the filmmaking process will have a field day with this.

The deleted scenes run a combined 25 minutes 29 seconds. Included are 10 scenes with optional audio commentary with director Chan-wook Park. The scenes themselves are rather forgettable, but the commentaries are very interesting, and offers some further insight in to the film, and its characters. Well worth a look. They include:

- "Oh Dae-su" runs for 10 minutes 54 seconds.
- "Day One" runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds.
- "Japanese Restaurant" runs for 33 seconds.
- "Fight with the Guards" runs for 1 minutes 15 seconds.
- "Kiss" runs for 1 minutes 42 seconds.
- "The Lovers 1" runs for 1 minutes 5 seconds.
- "The Lovers 2" runs for 1 minute 19 seconds.
- "Woo-jin's Preparation" runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "The Remaining Plot" runs for 1 minute 42 seconds.
- "Tube Station: Reflection" runs for 1 minute 1 second.

The original theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute 31 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: B+ Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A

 


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