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Oldboy – Hong Kong R3 (Edko Video) vs North American R1 (Tartan Asia Extreme)
7th March 2006

Oldboy R3
Rating/Certificate: Hong Kong III
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 23rd December 2004
Run Time: 120 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Korean, DTS 6.1 ES Korean
Subtitles: English, Chinese
Extra Features: Behind The Scenes, TV Spots, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Cast/Crew Info.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Yu Ji-Tae, Gang Hye-Jeong
Related Movies: Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Oldboy R1
Rating/Certificate: USA R
Region: 1
DVD Release Date: 23rd August 2005
Run Time: 120 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Korean, DTS 5.1 (ES?)Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English
Extra Features: Audio Commentary by Director and Cinematographer, Theatrical Trailer, 5 Deleted Scenes, Interview with Director Park Chan-Wook
Easter Egg: No
Director:  Park Chan-wook
Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Yu Ji-Tae, Gang Hye-Jeong
Related Movies: Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance


Feature


I'm sure most of you know the story by now (or at least, you probably should), but for the sake of consistency; I'll not skip over the plot synopsis. One day, seemingly a seemingly innocent, average, and undignified man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a small room resembling a cheap hotel room. He is not given reason for his imprisonment, and is simply left to his own devices, with nothing but a journal, a disturbing painting, and a television set to keep him company. Through this television he’s informed that his wife has been murdered, his daughter has gone missing, and that he is the prime suspect.

Oldboy R3
Edko R3


Oldboy R1
Tartan R1


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Final Edition)
Starmax R3 (Final Edition)


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Special Edition)
Starmax R3 (Special Edition)


After fifteen years of being knocked unconscious with gas for grooming, eating the same pan-fried pot stickers, logging his thoughts, and beating his fists bloody against the wall, the prisoner is mysteriously set free. He is informed via a third party stranger that he has five days to figure out why he was held hostage, if he doesn't, he will be killed.

Oldboy may very well have been the best, and the most important film of the twenty-first century, had it not been for those pesky New Zealanders and their damned Hobbits. A poignant mix of visceral reactions and subtle introversions, the film speaks volumes for modern cinema's post-modern sensibilities, modern societies apathy, film's progression as an art form and an entertainment source, and perhaps most importantly, South Korea's relevance in the realm of influential art. The film works on so many levels, it can be simply overwhelming to even the most studious viewer.

Unlike Tarentino's Kill Bill films, which took the classic exploitation theme of bloody vengeance and created a funhouse homage to the classic genres of the underground scene, writer/director Park Chan-wook has stripped the theme of its cinematic carnal pleasures. Like the film's thematic predecessor, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which showed two sides of revenge and allowed events to play out in a most tragically objective manner, Oldboy turns classic clichés of modern cinema on their heads. While bloody revenge may be what the audiences initial, visceral gut reaction it craves, the truth and realism behind the action rears its head.

Visually, it's as if Park as taken all the lessons of modern cinematography and editing, including the ever-hated music video and video game methods, and distilled them into a eloquent yet seedy whole. There is a dreadful calm to the entire film, the anticipation of violence always bubbling to the surface, but never spilling over, at least not until the frenetic final revelation. The framing, camera motion, and set and costume design all exude an undeniable visual poetry in the face of some of the ugliest events in mainstream film. The duality of the image is fascinating.

The acting is great all around, but it is Choi Min-sik as the lead victim Oh Dae-su, and Yu Ji-tae as the sadistic Lee Woo-jin, that steal the show, as it should be, because they are the Yin and Yang of the plot. Choi's physical transformation in the hands of his torment is a site to be absorbed by every aspiring actor alive. The character has to undergo three distinctive emotional changes, and each step is achingly believable. Yu, who is basically playing an emotionally scarred and slightly more sociopathic version of Lex Luthor, is charmingly slimy, maintaining his collected calm, only breaking twice in his adult state. His performance is in the end, perhaps even more important than that of Choi, as he's given the impossible job of making the audience pity a monster, which is the thing that separates Park's films from other revenge dramas.

Oldboy R3
Edko R3


Oldboy R1
Tartan R1


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Final Edition)
Starmax R3 (Final Edition)


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Special Edition)
Starmax R3 (Special Edition)


Oldboy is the most challenging non-indie film to see major release since the gloriously hilarious, Nietzschean adventures of Tyler Durden in David Fincher's Fight Club. It begs repeat viewings, requires an open mind, and demands acceptance at all costs. It has become the quintessential modern South Korean film for good reason, it is nearly without flaw. Oldboy is so good that my writing skills can't express it. My feeble skills aren't any match for its layered grandeur, and I simply hope all cineaste's simply take my word for it, and soak it in as soon as possible.

Video


Editor’s Note: I have included screen captures from the Korean Starmax ‘Final Edition’ and original special edition to further enhance the comparison.

Before I continue, I want to make it perfectly clear to the site’s regular readers that when it comes to technical knowledge, I am no Chris Gould. This comparison is going to be the best I can manage with what I have. I do also apologize that none of my screen caps here really capture the semi-subtle differences between the two transfers. I tried to pick scenes that were more or less obvious on the big screen, but it seems that it was somewhat in vain.

The region three Hong Kong disc of Oldboy suffers. It's not a bad transfer, but considering the film's recent vintage, and the care the filmmakers put into its production, it really should've looked better. The first offences appear very quickly, during the black on white opening credits. Eagle eyed viewers will notice two things, one, that the black isn't exactly the deepest it could be, and two, there is some heavy digital blocking due to low level noise. This low level noise is present in almost every deeply dark sequence throughout the film.

The second offence appears immediately after, as the sun bleached South Korean skyline flashes into view, edge enhancement rips across every, um, edge. Though not so much a problem during indoor or night sequences, this rascally imperfection can be seen throughout most every daylight scene.

These are the transfer's two biggest problems, and they are quite noticeable at times. Film grain is scarce, and detail levels are sharp, though obviously too sharp at times. The colour is slightly too cool, and loses some of the richness of the image. The omnipresent purples suffer the greatest, but had I not seen another transfer (complete with a cinematographer's commentary), I probably wouldn't have known any better.

Oldboy R3
Edko R3


Oldboy R1
Tartan R1


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Final Edition)
Starmax R3 (Final Edition)


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Special Edition)
Starmax R3 (Special Edition)


The Tartan region one transfer is a marked improvement, but still suffers the same inadequacies, however in a much slighter intensity. The opening credits still have the same digital blocking due to the same low-level noise, but darkness throughout the rest of the film fares better than the Hong Kong disc. For the most part it is unnoticeable except during sequences of almost total darkness.

The biggest improvement, beyond the lack of compression artefacts, is the image colour balance. Everything appears warmer, and is more true to Park's original vision. During the commentary a lot of time is spent discussing colour choices, and the film was meant to be artificially green and violet. Beyond these artificial colour choices, the Tartan disc also presents warmer skin tones, which in this case isn't as important, but most welcome regardless.

It should be noted that the Hong Kong release utilizes an interlaced transfer, while Tartan's disc utilizes the superior progressive format. This doesn't create that much of a discourse so far as ghosting goes, but most likely contributed to the compression issues with the Hong Kong disc.

Audio


Both discs come with the option of DTS or Dolby Digital Korean. The Hong Kong disc states that the tracks are ES and EX enhanced, which unfortunately I am unable to verify, as my system does not meet those particular specs (feel free to E-Mail me anytime, and we can discuss the ‘Gabe Powers Audio Upgrade’ pledge drive). The Tartan disc states that it too has EX enhancement on the Dolby track, but claims seem to differ on if the DTS track is ES enhanced. I'm going to go ahead and assume it is. All four tracks sound more or less the same.

Oldboy R3
Edko R3


Oldboy R1
Tartan R1


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Final Edition)
Starmax R3 (Final Edition)


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Special Edition)
Starmax R3 (Special Edition)


I know there's apparently a great amount of upgrade when it comes to DTS vs. Dolby, but, here especially, I don't hear it. What I do hear is a slightly higher volume level. I suppose if I cranked it up until my ears were bleeding, I may notice more distortion in the Dolby track. There is no more division between the channels, no more crispness to the dialogue, nothing but more volume. I suppose that the bass channel is, if I listen real close, a little less diffused on the DTS track.

So far as the difference between the DVDs, as I said, it's negligible. The Tartan release gets a slight edge when it comes to overall oomph, as the Hong Kong disc is quieter on similar volume levels. Neither disc is superbly impressive, and only really come to life when the beautiful electro-symphonic score kicks in. If you're looking for a demo disc, neither release is your ideal destination, but mostly due to the film's nature, not the mixes themselves. I should note that the Tartan release contains an English dub track that I decided not to listen to.

Extras


Here's the bit of my comparison review that is rendered moot. These are two of the plainest releases of this film available. Had I one of the many special editions on the market, rest assured, there'd be some major comparing here (maybe Mal could see it in his heart to ‘lend’ me his Korean Ultimate Edition for an update on this article someday). As it stands, the Tartan disc wins out because of two simple inclusions: deleted scenes and a director and cinematographer commentary.

The Hong Kong disc only includes a few of the expected basic extras—all in Chinese, or Korean with Chinese subtitles—or are commercials. The behind the scenes feature is really just a longer trailer, and again, without subtitles anyway. I personally purchased this edition because of its cheap price, and when it comes to DVD extras, you usually get what you pay for.

A little more unexpected is Tartan's lack of solid making-of material, especially considering their more inclusive, two-disc UK release. Why those addition features weren't included is a mystery to me. The aforementioned deleted scenes and commentary track are nice to have, but neither particularly blew my mind. The deleted scenes reveal very little more of the film, and were obviously cut for pacing reasons. They total five in all.

Oldboy R3
Edko R3


Oldboy R1
Tartan R1


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Final Edition)
Starmax R3 (Final Edition)


Oldboy R3 - Starmax (Special Edition)
Starmax R3 (Special Edition)


The commentary is far too technical for my taste, and is mostly dominated by talk of the film's look, which though enormously important, is not the whole film. There is no word, for instance, about the use of ants as imagery, something I was hoping to have explained to me. Perhaps the mystery is part of the drama, and better left to the viewer's imagination. This lack of true question answering follows through into the brief director interview, which is really a Q and A session. I'm led to believe that Park isn't interested in spelling out his film's meanings to his viewers, a stance that can prove frustrating to fans, but is ultimately admirable.

The rest of the Tartan disc is made up of trailers, including the winner of an online competition, which in some respects is better than the ads Tartan chose to run with, but ultimately doesn't have that polished and professional look.

Overall


Of these two editions (the most modestly priced on the world market), the Tartan disc wins out due to its superior picture merits. Though it doesn't show so well on my provided screen captures, there is a definite difference, mostly due to too much digital compression on the part of the Hong Kong release. The audio presentations are pretty much identical. Extras are slim on the Tartan release, when compared to their UK release, and nearly nil on the Hong Kong release. Both discs pale in comparison to other, far grander releases in the extras department.

(Readers may know that I tend to base my final score about 70% in favour of the quality of the film, but as this is a more technically based review, I've decided for an actual average for my final score.)

Hong Kong Region 3
Tartan USA Region 1
Film:1010
Video:57
Audio:77
Extras:25
Overall:67


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