OldBoy: Collector's Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe had a whole lot of Oldboy to sit through, but it was worth the numb butt..
Are you sick of OldBoy yet, oh regular visitors to this very site? What's this, the forth review? I admit it may be a little too much. My opinion of the film hasn't changed, and I'm not going to waste everyone's time shovelling praise again. If you really want to read that, I'll direct you to my R1/R3 Comparison Review, where you can read me get all fan-boy on the picture.
I'm noticing that the hype may actually be hurting the film recently. All the positive talk has brought even those not usually interested in Korean drama around to seeing the film. A simple visit to a film or DVD Internet forum will reveal a 50/50 split on opinion of the film. Sometimes the naysayers are up in arms about the violence, emotional and physical. Others are unimpressed by the film's melodrama and theatrics. Some just called it pretentious, which frankly seems to be code for ‘I didn't get it’ these days. I cannot change anyone's mind on the matter, Lord knows I could probably count the films I've hated then loved on one hand, nor do I want to imply that anyone's opinion is any less valid than my own. I do, however, want to reiterate the function of the film's violence a little bit. Those looking to know if I liked the DVD's A/V and extras simply need to move on to the appropriate sections of the review.
OldBoy, and in turn the other two films of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy ( Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), is a film about vengeance. Vengeance, despite what admittedly exciting theatrics of exploitation cinema may teach us, is a violent and ugly act. Violence is a necessity to the plot and theme of the film. Viewers objecting to the violence seem to be saying one of two things to me—either they misunderstood the themes of the film, or they only watch movies to be entertained. If they misunderstood the themes, I apologize on behalf of everyone who ever recommended the film with out thoroughly explaining its intentions. Those who watch movies only to be entertained, I'm not sure what to tell you.
I love a good revenge thriller. I love watching the good guy blast the bad guy (or kill him in some more gruesome way), and I recognize that this is base entertainment of my reptilian brain functions. There's nothing wrong with fantasy, and in turn, nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained. From a purely personal point of view, sometimes I like to be challenged, and sometimes find the best films are the ones that make me feel awful in the end. OldBoy isn't a fun movie in the end. It entertains from a visual standpoint, but die-hard fans of Charles Bronson and Steven Seagal may be disappointed in where this particular journey takes them (notice I said 'may be', I'm not speaking for everyone here, so please, no one mistake my meaning).
I believe that modern filmgoers are desensitized and immune to acts of theatrical violence, especially those on a grander scale. Decades of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger mow down insurgence with giant bullet-pumpers, and alien species decimating entire populations with weapons of mass destruction have robbed violence of its threat. In the 1930s audiences were shocked senseless by the very idea of a murdered child. In 2005 a giant gorilla can kill a couple dozen innocent New Yorkers and only get a PG-13 rating.
The films that shock modern audiences are the ones that personalize their violence, and make it painful. To flabbergast a modern audience, one only needs to show them the truth. In OldBoy, Oh Dea-su removes a man's teeth with a claw hammer in close up, and though the actual extraction is left to the audience’s imagination, the man's screams and dropping teeth are chilling. Yes, it's violent, but is it really any more violent than watching Keanu Reaves machine-gun a lobby full of virtual cops, or Viggo Mortesson beheading a handful of orcs?
The thing that seems to really irk people isn't the physical violence, but the overwhelming emotional violence. I've actually had friends yell at me for suggesting the film simply because it's such a downer. Park can be accused of setting out to shock and disturb his audience, but I don't believe he does so without emotional intrigue and a solid story. A viewer’s personal opinion of the film may derive from his or her patients when it comes to shock value. Some people, rightfully, find shock value a cheap thrill. Again, I personally find value beyond the shock in OldBoy, but I can understand the criticism. If you don't like shock you should be well aware of that fact before seeing the film.
Other problems detractors may have with the film are harder to put into perspective and come down to basic taste in the end. I'd hate to think that either the enormous hype around the film (to which I am a guilty contributor), or the opinions of a large minority that object to the film's themes and violence would keep those who haven't seen the film away. Love it or hate it, OldBoy is the kind of film that inspires discussion, and with an open mind both sides of this coin may have something to teach each other. But enough of this, on to the special edition DVD.
I was personally hoping for something a little closer to the Korean release in colour, but this release is a definite upgrade from the previous R1 effort. Black levels are much deeper, and details are a bit sharper (why just look at my chopstick holding Oh Dae-su screen caps!). The black levels are the real story here, but on larger sets the increased detail is most definitely noticeable.
This isn't a bad transfer by a long shot; contrarily it's the best I've seen the film look, but it has its share of pretty obvious problems. Backgrounds often suffer a touch of low-level noise and blocking, and starkly contrasting daylight scenes bring about some jagged edged bodies. It is these bleached whites that hurt the transfer the most. Basically they don't blend. According to some of the behind the scenes footage, these bleeding whites were done on purpose in several scenes, so a judgment call is hard to make.
US R1 Collectors Edition
US R1 Edition
Korean R3 Special Edition
I'm not sure about the film's colours, honestly, as no one release seems to match another. I don't think anyone, including Park Chan-wook, has any idea what the definitive colour scheme is. From screen caps I've seen, I prefer the greener Korean release, though its slightly alternate framing is curious.
This seems to be identical to the previous release, and there's nothing to complain about. Both DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are aggressive, surround placement is spot on, and dialogue is crystal clear. OldBoy isn't an action flick, and doesn't have any scenes of roving digitally created monsters, but the sound design lends itself well to the format. It's not the best way to show off a good system, but I honestly couldn't find anything to complain about.
The real story here is the music, which, as those who've seen the picture know, varies in style. Each style is about as perfect as anyone can expect. The hip-hoppish beats thump like a passing low-rider, without ever causing distortion. The rock guitars, though seldom utilized, should make a head-banger happy. Best of all, though, is the high fidelity strings, which flow like water into every channel.
Oh boy, this was a time consuming set to cull, but worth my time. Readers in other regions (specifically the U.K.), and fans with multi-regional players should be happy to know that from what I can tell not a one of these features are exclusive to this set (save the packaging and comic book). If the good folks at DVDCompare.net are to be believed, and they've never given us cause to doubt them, this collection is made up of almost all the previously available extras, only this time with English subtitles. The only thing missing from the fabled, long out-of-print Korean Ultimate Edition are the Harry Knowles and Korean film critic commentaries, and the CD soundtrack, and apparently an exclusive documentary. Frankly three very similar commentaries are enough, and I can't imagine another documentary would have anything to add. Only the soundtrack is missed.
Things start out with the first disc and its three commentary tracks. I get the feeling that Park isn't a fan of doing commentary tracks, which makes the presence of three of them kind of strange. Two of these tracks can be found on Tartan's previous release. The new one is the actor's track, which isn't the best I've heard, but a fair site more entertaining than the other two tracks. The problem with any track involving Park Chan-wook (and in turn almost every Korean track I've ever listened to), is that everything comes down to technical jargon and focus on the look and physical film over talk of the story or character. I'm very curious about the participant's raw emotional attachment to the film, and only the actors really seem to emote this (though in all fairness, I didn't listen to any of the three tracks in their entirety).
Disc two contains the more accessible behind the scenes footage, featuring a mix of footage and interviews. This is, from what I can tell, the same stuff featured on the original Tartan UK release of the film (and several other non-R1 releases of the film). The footage is divided into six categories, but a 'play all' function is present as well. As a documentary (if one were to consider it as such) this isn't the best I've seen, but there is a sense of quaint, ‘handmadeness’ (yeah, I know it's not a word) to it. The last part includes interview questions from fans, and from the director to the actors. It's endearing. I learned a lot from this stuff, not the least of which is the fact that actor Choi Min-sik actually had a lot to do with the finished film. He contributed some of the best stuff.
I wish the director/composer music commentary would've been included as an alternate track on the film itself. Isolated scores with composer commentary are often the highlight of lesser DVD collections. Fans of film music should get quite a bit out of this featurette, regardless of its placement on the set.
The deleted/extended scenes feature a very apprehensive commentary with Park Chan-wook (who all but specifically mentions his dislike of commentary tracks). These scenes all needed to be cut, as the film verges on overlong, but they aren't entirely disposable, which is uncommon. A scene where Dae-su wakes up in his prison for the first time is a welcome addition, but entirely unnecessary. Included also is the long version of the film's opening police station sequence (which was jump-cut edited in the final film), and a kissing scene filmed in case the sex scene proved to be too graphic for Korean censors. The kiss, we're told, was later used on a TV broadcast of the film.
The interview footage is a little extraneous after the documentary footage, but tells a little more of the behind the scenes genesis of Oldboy. It's the kind of thing that really is included for posterity over entertainment. This is a full set of almost everything available on the making of the film, and I'm glad these interviews are part of that.
The second disc rounds out with a featurette about the cast a crew's journey to the Cannes film festival. It's sort of a mini-movie in itself, and is edited down to a palatable level. At Cannes, OldBoy was robbed of its Palme d'Or because 2004 was an election year, and the French audiences (not to mention most of the world's creative minds) wanted to make a point. Michael Moore's flawed, and frankly sloppy Fahrenheit 9/11 took the prize (I've been a fan of Moore's for a long time, and am not a fan of Bush Jr., but found Fahrenheit 9/11 entirely slap-dash). OldBoy took home the consolation prize of Grand Prix.
The third disc of the set is made up entirely of the three and a half hours of raw behind the scenes footage entitled The Autobiography of OldBoy (which is funny, because a film can't actually have an autobiography, but I digress). This footage can be seen in bits and pieces on the more focused second disc documentary. I love OldBoy, more than most I guess, but even the sheer volume of footage here drained me. The thing that made the hours and hours of documentary footage on the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVDs was the fact that it was divided into palatable sections, and each section was edited and produced like a little film. It's really hard to watch seemingly random, fly-on-the-wall stuff without context or direction. I'm not saying the document is entirely without context or direction, but both are pretty thin.
The really golden stuff is few and far between, but witnessing the sheer amount of effort that goes into a motion picture production is invigorating at times. The bits that stick out in my mind are the filming of the octopus devouring, and the subway scene. Watching a Korean superstar chow down on an unwilling invertebrate is memorable for obvious reasons. I feel sorry for the octopi, as does poor Choi Min-sik, but when the crew starts giggling it's hard not to be affected. It's just so absurd. The subway scene (featuring a man-sized ant) is interesting because it was filmed on a working subway car. The crew had to constantly tell civilians to not enter the car, which as one would expect, was met with some resistance.
I'm pretty sure I'll never watch this mountain of visual information ever again, but it is, again, an important part of the greater collection of OldBoy material. It's good to know that Tartan has done their best to leave only a few stones unturned.
The whole set comes in a classy metal case (which the FedEx man managed to dent all to Hell), and includes a film cell (I got a bloody close up on Dae-su's face), and part one of the original comic the film was based on. The comic is a nice inclusion (probably inspired by last year's Sin City re-release, and it's a great deal of fun to compare the two stories. I wish the tin's cover art didn't look so very much like that of HBO's Band of Brothers release. I also wish Tartan had secured the rights for the original soundtrack release, as the Korean Ultimate Edition includes a CD. And one last complaint to the fine folks at Tartan, please stop adding these unskippable company trailers to the beginning of your DVDs.
So there you go, everything you ever wanted to know about OldBoy, plus about two hours worth of stuff you probably didn't care about. This is a massive, and pretty much complete DVD set. It isn't the most entertaining set on the planet, but it certainly is thorough. The video quality is a small step up from Tartan USA's previous release, but doesn't share some of the unique colour and framing qualities as other releases. If you live in the U.K. all these features are available, split amongst Tartan's two releases, with the exception of the comic and film cell. If you own the Korean Ultimate Edition, you gain a few commentaries, but not all your extras include English subtitles. On the other hand, if you don't own any DVD copies of OldBoy, what the Hell are you waiting for?
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 14th November 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Korean DTS 5.1, Korean Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director, Cinematographer and Cast Commentaries, 5 Behind the Scenes Documentaries, 10 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, Cast & Crew interviews, Featurette: ‘Le Grand Prix at Cannes’, The Autobiography of Oldboy, Graphic Novel, Film Cell
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Yu Ji-Tae, Kang Hye-Jeong
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 120 minutes
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