Oldboy (HK - DVD R3)
A very unusual comic book adaptation and stylishly directed shock-thriller, Old Boy is a brilliant Asian endeavour that is well wo...
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Comic book adaptations are rife at the moment. The advance in CGI has made almost anything possible to portray convincingly on screen. Multi-million dollar effects and box office receipts do not necessarily make a movie any good though and the interest in comic adaptations has led to umpteen spin-offs of less well-known comic characters, most of which are utterly unnecessary. Prime examples include Elektra and Catwoman, both of which had potential and strong investment but were worthless due to their unintentional comedy value. The best adaptation that I have seen recently, and probably the most faithful, is the Mickey Rourke comeback vehicle Sin City, which has already received such acclaim that two sequels have been commissioned. Although the material might have been more obscure than the likes of Batman and Superman, that works to its advantage: for newcomers it has been heralded as a marvellous modern-day film noir and for fans it is the most respectful comic book adaptation ever. Oldboy is a similarly less well-known but unusual comic book adaptation that has also become something of a hit.
Dae-su is a man on a mission. Abducted and held for years – Count of Monte Cristo style – he gets out and goes on a revenge-fuelled hunt for the people who incarcerated him. Along the way he meets a young girl who helps him on his quest and he slowly works his way up the food chain in his bid to discover the truth. It is a simple story that needs no further elucidation mainly because to say too much would spoil the surprises and there are plenty of those. All I will say is that the story has been thought out well enough to have you gripped and guessing all the way till the end. Since you follow Dae-su and see everything from his point of view, you are just as confused as to what is going on and have to wait patiently as the plot unravels. Who did this to him? Why did they do this to him? And why not just kill him? It is a brilliantly dark thriller with frequent bouts of horrendous violence and some truly brutal fight sequences.
Although the story deserves a great deal of credit – with an ending that will leave you reeling – the style of direction and use of the score are particularly noteworthy, with some extremely unusual and clever shots and perfect accompaniment by an almost signature music track. One fight scene is shot uniquely and to great effect as if it were a scrolling platform beat-em up – and it is the kind of sequence, like the lobby scene in the Matrix, which will have you revisiting it repeatedly. Even with everything seemingly matched to perfection, the movie would still fall flat without a truly remarkable lead. It is lucky then that the protagonist Dae-su is played by Min-sik Choi who is simply perfect in the role. I have only previously come across him in the excellent thriller Shiri. Here, transforming from a middle-aged, unfit, adulterous drunk into a self-trained fighting machine with seriously crazy hair, Min-sik Choi brings the character to life and delivers the kind of powerful, passionate, driven performance that will hopefully see him get his pick of starring roles from now on.
Similarly well chosen is Hye-jeong Kang, who plays Dae-su’s young helper. Even though her character is ditzy as hell, she is also cute beyond words and well matched with her companion’s older, grizzled anti-hero. We also get Ji-tae Yu as a mysterious, eccentric businessman who knows much more than he initially divulges and is followed around by an equally enigmatic and deceptively restrained white-haired bodyguard. Old Boy is a tremendous movie, with interesting characters that are well portrayed, a rich story that is well realised and basically very little to fault it at all. If you can stomach some of the more shocking scenes – of which there are a couple – and can handle the occasionally disturbing story-line, then it is well worth your time and effort. This stylish thriller really gets under your skin and makes you feel the shock and horror that the characters feel at both the actions of others and of themselves and it is the kind of movie that cements Asian cinema’s position as a serious competitor to its Western counterparts. I simply cannot recommend it enough.
Old Boy is presented in a broad 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The detail is quite good, showing only a few signs of softness and a little edge enhancement but no other signs of digital artefacting. There is light grain in some scenes, but the contrast is generally good and the blacks remain deep and solid, seemingly untouched by the grain. The colour palette is reasonably broad if occasionally slightly faded but it is generally quite good. Overall the transfer is admirably solid but not exceptional, although it certainly never does anything that detracts from your viewing pleasure.
There are two supreme tracks for this release, both in the original Korean language. The DTS-ES track is the business, but both are extremely powerful punchy tracks. The dialogue is always crystal clear, coming mainly from the frontal array and never interfered with by the soundtrack. That does not mean that the score isn’t presented well – it is a fantastic score, in particular the ‘fight theme’ – but just that it was written specifically to lull to the conversation when necessary. During the action segments it is rousing and punchy, with good bass to rumble through your chest. The sound effects are brilliantly observed, with every little clanging weapon and every heavy blow noted so that it feels like the whole film is evolving in your living room. Both tracks are good examples of their respective components – but a half bitrate DTS track and a top-end Dolby track are often indistinguishable and that is certainly the case here, although both should be applauded for their excellence.
There are only a few extra features on this release of the disc. There is an eleven-minute Behind the Scenes documentary which shows b-roll footage, the director shooting certain scenes, set design and some on-set chats between the cast and crew. Unfortunately it is all in Korean, with no optional subtitles. Therefore, whilst it is possible to understand what is going on, you do not gain as much from what they are saying. The footage is often quite revealing, with extra scenes of fighting and various other extended scenes from the movie - including the octopus scene. The actor who plays Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) certainly looks like he put a great deal into the movie – at one point he looks like is going to collapse from exhaustion – but thankfully there are also a few moments of laughter on set in the form of outtakes.
Next up there is the Theatrical Trailer, which runs at nearly two-and-a-half minutes in length and has optional English subtitles. It is quite good but unfortunately, as with a great deal of trailers these days, it does give away a great deal about the movie itself. The thirty-second TV spot is a lot less revealing – but has no subtitles. The photo gallery is comprised of only ten stills taken from the movie itself. Finally we get brief, selected cast and crew filmographies for actors Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang and the director, Chan-wook Park.
Old Boy is one of the many great Asian films that I have come across recently like Infernal Affairs and the Ring trilogy. It outclasses many comparable Hollywood efforts in style, story and performances and I hope that Dae-su Oh goes down as another great, unusual anti-hero alongside Mickey Rourke’s Marv from Sin City. As for this release, the video transfer is perfectly reasonable but the sound is exceptional and I doubt these tracks could be surpassed on other editions. Extras-wise, there is a nice little offering here but there are other versions out there with more stuff including featurettes, deleted scenes, excerpts from the comic book and selections from the soundtrack. For a well-priced decently put-together release though, this is perfectly acceptable.
You can purchase this title for $14.99 from top retailer Yes Asia.
Review by Casimir Harlow
For persons aged 18 or above only
Release Date: 23rd December 2004
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 6.1 EX Korean, DTS 6.1 ES Korean
Subtitles: English, Chinese
Extras: Behind the Scenes Featurette, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Cast and Crew Filmographies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang, Dae-han Ji
Length: 120 minutes
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