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Written by: on July 9th, 2005
Oldboy Oldboy
Theatrical Release Date: South Korea, November 21st, 2003
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writers: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Joon-hyung Lim, Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang, Dae-han Ji

DVD released: February 28th, 2005
Approximate running time: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18
Sound: DTS-ES digital surround 6.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex Korean, Dolby Digital Stereo Korean
Subtitles: English
DVD Release: Tartan
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal (UK)
Retail Price: $31.95

Synopsis: Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) disappears into thin air one night outside of a phone and when he next awakens he soon finds out that is being held prisoner. After fifteen years of imprisonment Dae-su is released into the world he once knew with nothing more than a wallet full of cash and cell phone. Unable to recover any of his lost memories Dae-su forms a relationship with a young girl named Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang). A stranger calls Dae-su on his cell phone to inform him that the game isn’t over until he figures out when he was imprisoned for fifteen years and he gives Dae-su five days to discover the truth or the man of the phone will kill Dae-su’s new found love Mi-do. Will Dae-su put the pieces of the puzzle together before it is too late or will his quest for vengeance lead him down a more sinister path?

Oldboy is the second film in Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy. It is his follow up to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance with the final chapter in the “Vengeance” trilogy Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Just when you have thought that you have seen every imaginable reason for vengeance along in walks a movie like Oldboy that takes familiar themes and turns them on their head. Oldboy’s often bleak outlook is enhanced by its lead actor’s Min-sik Choi performances for the ages as the enigmatic Dae-su Oh. His acting chops are challenged throughout the film as this role covers a lot ground mentality and psychically. Early on we are introduced to Dae-su who at this point in the film is load and arrogant with no respect for others. As the film progresses Dae-su starts to gain his confidence only to come full circle to the shell of his former self. The film poses the question what possibly could any man do that would justify being imprisoned for fifteen years. Also a human beings the one thing that we all carve most is the company of others and loneliness is something we all dread. It is hard to say what it would be like to have everything taken away from you like your family and live in solitude for any extended period of time. As an actor Min-sik Choi had to do just this even though he had no way to research such feelings and in the end his performance is so powerful you began to believe his pain and suffering.

Park Chan-Wook continues to grow as a filmmaker and his sense of composition is second to none as each frame is a mini masterpiece. The film is filled with repetition as several images and characters actions are repeated albeit in slightly altered forms throughout. The casting of Ji-tae Yu as Woo-jin Lee at first might seem like an odd choice since he is fourteen years younger his rival in the film Min-sik Choi. It is precisely why this choice works so well because Woo-jin Lee should retain his youthful appearance while Dae-su who has been imprisoned should look older then he really is because of the ordeal he has been put through. Ji-tae Yu takes what could have been a minor part and makes it so much more with his subdued and often low key take on Woo-jin Lee. The final piece of the puzzle and the character that binds the tie is that of Mi-do who is played perfectly by Hye-jeong Kang.

One of my favorite moments in the film also has to do with a famous piece of music. It happens when Dae-su returns to the place where he was held captive. He finds the boss and duck tapes him to a chair while he removes his teeth with a hammer. During this scene Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” plays while Dae-su operates which helps make the scene even more painful to watch. The violence in Oldboy is done in way in which it serves the story instead of being done just for shock value which only makes it more powerful. There are so many great set pieces throughout the film that all somehow seem to top the previous one. Oldboy is an elaborated game of cat and mouse that plays out like a Greek tragedy. It is a visual feast for the eyes that I found stimulating and highly entertaining despite its dark subject matter.

The DVD:

Tartan presents Oldboy in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors look strong though out with healthy looking flesh tones. Black levels remain strong through as the image exhibits an exceptional amount of detail in every frame. There are no problems with compression or edge enhancement. This transfer does an excellent job capture the texture and feel of the films visuals. Tartan’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance suffered from a blurring effect. While watching Oldboy I didn’t notice any distracting motion blurring during playback.

This DVD comes with three audio options DTS-ES digital surround 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex surround and Dolby Digital stereo. All three audio mixes are presented in the films original Korean language. For this review I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 Ex surround which has razor sharp dialog and the action at times literally leaps off the screen. The music and effects sound evenly mixed with no problems with distortion or any other defects. Overall the audio offers a full sound that fully envelops the viewer into the world that is being created on the screen. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand.

The first disc includes the follow extras the films original theatrical trailer and three audio commentaries. The first audio commentary features Park Chan-Wook by himself were he discuss in-depth the film. This commentary is not as lively as the other two, still as always Park Chan-Wook offers up a wealth of insight. The second audio commentary features Park Chan-Wook and the films Cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong. This commentary is the most technical of the three as its deals primarily with the aspects of making Oldboy. In the third and final commentary Park Chan-Wook is joined by members of the cast. This track is about having a good time and at times they participants drift off into discussions that border on the mundane. All three audio commentaries are in Korean and English subtitles have been included. While I am not usually a fan of audio commentaries in a foreign language that require subtitles to understand them these commentaries especially the one with Park Chan-Wook and Jeong-hun Jeong more then held my attention.

The second disc includes the following extras broken down into three sections. First up is a section titled behind the scenes that includes a Q&A segment with the three lead actors titled “Flashback”. In the next featurette “The Cast Remembers” the cast and crew discuss how they became involved with Oldboy. Two other featurette’s “Production Design” and “CGI” focuses on what goes on behind the scenes while making a film. The best extras from the section is the featurette “The Music Score” in which the composer and director discuss the film in-depth including how they named each musical cue after famous films. The Final featurette in the section is titled “Le Grand Prix at Cannes” which condenses the cast and crews experiences at the Canne film festival. The next section is titled “Deleted scenes” and as an added bonus the director on a separate audio track discusses the deleted footage. There are ten deleted scenes in all and they run about twenty four minutes in length. Interesting fact to take note of that Park Chan-Wook often while watching these scenes mentions how embarrassed he was about showing them. Some of these scenes are variations and extended versions of what ended up in the final film. In the final section simply titled “Interviews” which includes comments from cast members Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Yoon Jin-seo, Chi Dae-han, Kim Byoung-ok, Oh Dal-soo, Oh Kwang-rok and Lee Seung-shin who discuss in-depth the characters they played. Also included in this section is an audio interview Garon Tsuchiya who created the Manga in which the film Oldboy was based on. He speaks fondly about the film and his admiration for the films director Park Chan-Wook. Other interviews include Park Chan-Wook in another Q&A like interview with an audience discusses his films and the final interview is the one Tartan filmed exclusively for this release in which a translator answers in English Park Chan-Wook’s answers to the questions his being asked. This interview offers a few interesting bits that are not in any of the other interviews.

This release if filled to the brim with amazing extras that go perfectly along with the films stunning audio/video presentation. This is the kind of special edition treatment one would expect from Criterion. Park Chan-Wook with Oldboy creates an instant classic that is so vivid in its brutal intensity that it will leave you emotional drained. Oldboy is a film that you will likely never forget. It is simply one of best films to ever come out of Asia.

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