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Tartan Video presents
Oldboy (2003)

"If they had told me it would be 15 years, would it have been easier to endure? Or harder?"
- Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-Sik)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: December 09, 2005

Stars: Choi Min-Sik, Gang Hye-Jung
Other Stars: Yoo Ji-Tae
Director: Chanwook Park

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language
Run Time: 01h:59m:51s
Release Date: August 23, 2005
UPC: 842498030042
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- B+

DVD Review

For the hip and informed, Korean director Chanwook Park is one of the leading "go to" guy for unrelentingly brutal revenge films, including Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance) and this, his 2003 release Oldboy, which sits as one of those projects that tends to split audiences into two camps.

A cover blurb says it has the Quentin Tarantino seal of approval (that should immediately tell you where you fall), and his championing of Park's dark tale really helped to elevate international awareness of the film. Oldboy is all unmitigated vengeance—there's no question about that—but viewers have either fallen all over themselves swooning about it or gone the other direction entirely, lambasting the sometimes difficult to follow plot as dull filler between bouts of over-the-top and often very graphic violence.

It is a stripped-down story—albeit one that requires paying close attention, especially early on—about a Korean businessman named Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-Sik) who is snatched off the street while drunk and imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years by an unseen captor for reasons that are unclear (though eventually revealed). For all those years Oh Dae-su has meals slid under his door, a television as his only link to the outside world—and through which he learns he has been framed for the murder of his wife—and is gassed into unconsciousness nightly to be cleaned and have his clothes changed. He spends his days punching the walls and going, understandably, a bit crazy, and when he finally gets his "freedom," he reluctantly teams up with Mi-do (Gang Hye-Jung), a cute sushi chef who tries to help him get to the bottom of things.

We're told Oh Dae-su's name means "getting through one day at a time," and for a revenge-fueled story, that seems fitting. And it isn't always pretty. Extracting someone's teeth with a hammer rarely is. In fact, that single scene, with Oh Dae-su gathering information about his abductor, made this one of the few films where something forced me to actually squeeze my eyes shut into narrow slits, barely peeking at what was happening onscreen, dropping the volume down so I couldn't hear what was going on. The "tooth interrogation" bit is a tough watch, though Park frames it like a graphic novel, utilizing high angles and stark closeups to sell the edgy action. His trail of vengeance gets progressively intense, and things like a long, single-take fight scene against an army of thugs, with Oh Dae-su once again armed only with a claw hammer, seem like they would be the big payoff in another film, but here that's just Park warming up for what's to come.

For what it's worth, I'm not quite in the mindless swoon camp, but I'm close. From a purely visceral standpoint, Oldboy is indeed an adrenaline rush, the kind of bitch-slap thriller that stands on the shoulders of lesser films by going against convention in so many ways that it sometimes feel as if Park is trying to outdo himself as the story progresses. There are some logistical problems with the plot itself, to say nothing of a two-hour runtime that drags things a bit, but Park and cinematographer Jeong-Hun Jeong never appear to have any shortage of visual tricks up their collective sleeves.

That's where the fun comes in.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Another solid effort from Tartan, with the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer rendering the dark shadows and treated colors admirably. It isn't an overly bright film—even the outdoor scenes are overcast—but the intentional harshness comes across almost cleanly, and small blips of deep color (like the red and gold of Dae-su's "prison") seem unnaturally radiant. A lesser transfer could have muddied up the works here, but Tartan delivers, despite a bit of fine grain and occasional shimmer in spots.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Korean, Englishyes
DTSKoreanyes


Audio Transfer Review: It's a mixed blessing to have the option of an English-dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, because it allows a viewer to take in the visual style of Chanwook Park without focusing on text, but the problem is (like most dubs) that it is more of a distraction. Instead, opt for either the Korean language DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, both of which provide deep, punchy bass, effective directional pans and a steady use of the rear channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, H, Heroic Duo, Tetsuo, A Tale Of Two Sisters, Wishing Stairs
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Chanwook Park, Jeong-hun Jeong
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Unlike the impressive 4-disc/tin box R3 version, this R1 release is just a single dual-layer disc, though it does come with a thick-stock cardboard slipcase.

Extras consist of a commentary track from director Chanwook Park and cinematographer Jeong-Hun Jeong, presented in Korean with English subtitles. The content runs mostly on the technical side, with much of the discussion centering of what type of lens was used for a given shot, methods of camera movement and digital dollies. I'm not a big fan of reading commentaries, but the info is good, especially when Park discusses the infamous one-take hammer fight scene.

Also included here is a brief Interview with Writer/Director Chanwook Park (07m:01s), in which he answers some prewritten questions before an auditorium of appreciative fans. He touches on the revenge themes of his films and the development of his unique visual style. Like the commentary, it is in Korean with optional English subtitles.

A set of eight deleted scenes, running just over twenty minutes in total, is available with an optional Chanwook Park commentary. Some of the sequences are extended variations of existing scenes (such as the 10m:58s alternate opening), but most are brief enough to not offer much advancement of the story (though one does offer interesting perspective on one of the main characters).

A Photo Gallery of 23 images, additional Tartan previews, the official theatrical trailer and an IFILM.com contest winner-created trailer (actually better than the "real" one) wrap up the supplements.

The disc is cut into a skimpy 16 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

It's easy to see why Oldboy has the unofficial Quentin Tarantino seal of approval—this revenge film just drips with dark humor and brutal violence, spread across an unconventional narrative flow. Sure, there are holes in the plot if you dig deep enough, but the way it is presented is riveting, in all of its ugly beauty.

Highly recommended.

 


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