Oldboy (US - BD)
Thanks to Blu-ray Gabe can now count the messy hairs on Choi Min-sik's head
Reviewer’s Note: Honestly, I see no need to rewrite or reintegrate my views on this particular film. Oldboy is a masterpiece, and easily one of the best films of the last decade. Instead of indirectly repeating myself, I’m going to just copy and paste parts of my original review here. If you want to know even more about my opinion just see my R1/R3 comparison article or my R1 collector’s edition review.
One day a seemingly innocent, average, and undignified man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a small, furnished bedroom/bathroom. He is given no reason for his imprisonment, instead he is simply left to his own devices with nothing but a journal, a disturbing clown 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.
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 Tarantino'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 presented two sides of revenge and allowed events to play out in a most tragically objective manner, Oldboy turns the classic clichés of modern cinema sideways. 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 never short of fascinating.
The performances are perfect, but it is Choi Min-sik as 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 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 and requires an open mind. My feeble writing skills are no match for the film’s layered grandeur, and I simply hope all cineaste's simply take my word for it, and soak it in as soon as possible.
Tartan has opted to release their most popular and important feature as a test for the crystal clear Blu-ray waters here in the US. My immediate reaction was actually somewhat tepid, as the level of detail in the transfer didn’t immediately blow my eyes away. Part of this can be blamed on the physically dark nature of the film’s first third, because the moment Oh Dae-su is released the transfer came to life. Another reason could be that the previous collector’s edition DVD release was a very good transfer.
It wasn’t until I made a direct comparison between the transfers that I started to really notice the degree of detail found on the Blu-ray disc. The big reveal for me came with the scene where Dae-su successfully carves a hole through the wall of his cell and is able to reach his hand into the falling rain outside. On the Blu-ray disc each and every drop of rain is visible, rather than a more visually simple sheet of water. The Blu-ray disc also depletes the low-level noise and compression blocking seen in the darker backgrounds of all previous DVD releases. Black levels are as deep as my set will allow, but still offer detail, though white edges are still slightly jagged.
Again, I was hoping for something a little closer to the Korean release in colour, but the director’s preferred vision is up for constant debate. The greens still aren’t as rich as I feel they should be, though the last act’s purples look better then ever, and are now almost completely without compression noise. The bleached whites also still look wrong to me, and the general contrast level of daylight scenes is a bit jarring, but again, this is a judgment call on my part because I’m not 100% sure on what the director intended.
I am unfortunately unable to access screen caps from the Blu-ray disc, so I’ve included ones I’ve taken from the previous collector’s edition release. Because of this I am unable to accurately gage the transfer’s framing, though I’m assuming it’s closer to the collector’s edition than the previous Tartan edition.
I couldn’t get the new DTS-HD Master Audio track to work, which apparently has something to do with the cheaper Blu-ray player I’ve got, so I’m unable to tell everyone about how great it sounds. The Dolby Digital EX track is nearly identical to the previous DVD release’s DTS track. I use the word nearly pretty loosely here, because I assume there must be a difference even though I can’t hear one. The track is plenty aggressive, surround placement is spot on, and dialogue is crystal clear. I was personally in awe of the pre-credit kidnapping scene, where pouring rain realistically fills every speaker in the room. 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 also appears that this is the same disc being released in the UK, as the subtitles contain words like "arse".
Reviewer’s note: The extra features disc included in this Blu-ray set are identical to the second disc of the collector’s edition release, right down to the fact that it is printed on a standard DVD. Again, I’ve just copied and pasted the material from my previous review.
The extras begin with the Blu-ray 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 (again, a DVD) 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’ 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.
Thanks to the awesome-tastic advent of High-Definition, Oldboy looks better than ever. The Extras are nothing new, and I was unable to give the DTS-HD Master Audio track a run due to my player’s limitation, but the increased video quality is impressive. It’s no call to run out and buy a Blu-ray player, but folks that already have the super-machine on their shelves may want to double dip. Now bring on the rest of the Vengeance Trilogy, Tartan.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 6th November 2007
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
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’
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Yu Ji-Tae, Kang Hye-Jeong
Genre: Drama, Mystery and Thriller
Length: 120 minutes
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