Judge Ryan Keefer's British teeth appear to have been extracted in the same manner that Oldboy illustrates.
Fifteen years of imprisonment. Five days of vengeance.
Oldboy came out of nowhere to win the Grand Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, read by an ecstatic Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), a fan of films from the Far East region. The treatment of the film on DVD was almost comical, getting release after release in various continents including North America. Tartan Video has released Oldboy as its first shot across the bow of the high definition format war. So how doth it shake up?
Facts of the Case
The film features an intriguing concept, based on a Japanese manga of the same name and directed by Park Chin-wook (Lady Vengeance). In it, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War) is a loudmouth businessman who gets drunk with a friend and is arrested and detained in a South Korean police station. When he is released, he is kidnapped and held in a hotel room, where he watches television to get a basis on life and current events, and he is routinely fed and drugged with gas so that people can come in and clean the room and him up. Oh Dae-su is released after 15 years in this prison, and he finds out his wife has been murdered (he is the presumed suspect) and his daughter was sent to Sweden to live with foster parents.
He sets out to find out what happened to him and who was responsible. Although, in a slightly unorthodox move, the kidnapper finds Dae-su first, and offers him a deal; if Dae-su can find out who the kidnapper is and why Dae-su was kidnapped, then the kidnapper will kill himself. If he cannot do this in five days, then the women in Dae-su's life will be killed. And thus begins the saga behind Oldboy.
I can't remember the first time that I saw Oldboy, but I thought at the time that it was the perfect combination of excellent storytelling combined with one of the bravest acting performances I had seen in years. It is a story full of twists and turns, and the ending of the film was a jaw dropper, and remains so. But when I watch Oldboy now, I try to detach myself from Dae-su's quest, and try to learn more about the path he takes that brings him to the point that it does. And I can't do it. His quest for payback, and Choi's emulation of this, is so visceral that it sucks you back in, with repeated viewings.
Park does keep the story close to the vest, that's for sure, Choi's performance is accented by a couple of things that Park does in the film, and what's amazing is that it's done with a minimum of special effects. Now granted, there's a scene in the hotel room where Dae-su thinks that he is being plagued by ants and that's all he can think about, but it's given much more clarity (and a bit of a clue) when he meets Mido (Hye-Jeong Kang, Three…Extremes) and she explains some of the meaning behind the ants. Dae-su finds himself in the middle of several fights, including one in a hallway where he takes on a dozen men, using his fists and a hammer in an incredible piece of filmmaking that is an apparent uncut shot, lasting almost three minutes in length. It's easily the best fight scene I've ever watched.
I mentioned Choi's performance earlier and how I thought that his performance was brave. When you watch Oldboy, bear in mind that he transforms himself from a soft, doughy-looking husband and father, to one who has lost weight and has developed a hard edge. And you can easily relate to his story. He is after all, imprisoned against his will, for no particular reason, and when he comes out, well it's on like Donkey Kong. Once he realizes and understands the whos and the whys of it, he becomes aware not only of the monster he's become, but of the cruel person he was before it, which gives him immense regret and sadness. He encompasses a wide range of emotions in two hours that many actors don't get a chance to show off.
Technically, I wasn't that impressed by what Oldboy brought to the table. Sure, its 2.35:1 widescreen presentation replicates its standard definition copy, and visually speaking, South Korean films sometimes lack visual detail, but this new version seemed to lack the detail I've come to expect from Blu-ray and/or HD DVD titles. The difference between this version and the recent Ultimate Edition is marginal at best. The DTS-HD track was also not much to brag about. The film's soundtrack is reproduced accurately to some degree, there's some low end activity and even some surround work, but this film is mainly dialogue and visuals, and the center channel dialogue seemed a little bit weak. Considering the various lives this film has had on DVD, I'm willing to give the folks at Tartan a "first bite free" rule.
As far as I can tell, the only thing that didn't come over from the very excellent UItimate Edition was the feature length "Biography of Oldboy." However the title is a two disc set to make sure everything's got its proper disc space and all. The three commentaries, all of which feature Park at some point, are all here, and despite the fact that they're subtitled, are full of information.
Moving over to Disc Two, where the rest of the extras are, I should note that the forced Tartan Video release trailer is here, and you can fast forward through it to get it out of the way. Things start with a series of behind the scenes documentaries, which can be played individually or together, running for a little over an hour. "Making the Film" is just that, with thoughts on how it came together from the cast and crew. From there, things get a little technical, as the style and look of the film is talked about next, with a couple of explanations on how certain scenes were set up. Color palettes and choices made in the story follow. "Production Design" reviews the art concepts and goes more in depth with the visuals. It also examines the wardrobe and set designs, along with the make-up of the characters. "The Music Score" features more of Park (as he contributed to the score) and Cho Young-Wook, as they discuss their intention for the film's music, along with recalling the music from some of the key sequences. Overall this piece is quite informative. The "CGI Documentary" piece goes by quickly actually, I wanted to see a little more of it. By the time the artists discussed what they wanted to do and breaking down a scene or two, it was over. "Flashback" is a retrospective look at the film with interviews by the relevant parties as they discuss the film and some of its more memorable scenes. It's an interesting look back at the production and between the other featurettes is worth checking out. A group of cast and crew interviews is next, where you can play each individual interview, or play all 11 which runs a little over 40 minutes. Park discusses what he wanted to accomplish when making the film, saying "I wanted a tiring film," which you've got to admit is something you might not have heard before from a director. The cast discuss and recall their time on the set, along with some of the challenges they faced with their characters. Wrapping up is "Le Grand Prix at Cannes," which covers the reception the film received a few years back. For about 10 minutes, the crew members, not to mention Park, discuss their thoughts about the praise they got at the 2004 festival.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Honestly, I wish I could find something of substance, but I can't really. There's a scene that runs a little bit too long in a flashback sequence, but in watching that again for this review, I find no quarrel with it and it adds a little bit of depth to the hatred of Dae-su.
If you've never seen Oldboy, you owe it to yourself to give it a spin. The story is compelling, the acting is incredible, and I guarantee that you will never see a film like this in the United States because of the opposition it would face from various interest/community groups. In a year when films like 2046 and The Motorcycle Diaries were also screened, see why this film was one of the best of the festival, and truly is one of the more anonymous yet memorable films in recent memory.
The court requests a post-hypnotic suggestion so that it can watch Oldboy again with fresh eyes and experience what it did the first time. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Director's Commentary
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