Oldboy (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the Blu-ray début of Park-Chan-wook's masterpiece
One evening, a seemingly average man by the name of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is abducted and imprisoned without explanation. Fed a diet of fried dumplings and denied any kind of human contact, his only link to the outside world is a television set on which he learns of the murder of his wife and the disappearance of his young daughter. As the years pass, Dae-su is driven to the brink of insanity and begins to hone his body into a weapon of vengeance against those responsible for his confinement. After fifteen years of captivity, Dae-su is suddenly released without warning and given just five days to solve the mystery of his incarceration. Along the way he meets a young sushi chef named Mido (Kang Hye-jeong), who helps him to track down the person responsible for his years of torment, but as he gets closer to his goal Dae-su begins to realise that he might not be as innocent as he first thought...
Oldboy arrives on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 as an AVC encoded 1080p/24 transfer. If you've ever read any of the previous Oldboy reviews on the site you might have seen reference to the differences between the original Korean DVD release of the film and all subsequent releases. The story goes that the distributor of the original 'Special Edition' DVD released in Korea received so many complaints about the quality of the video they remastered and reissued the film as a 'Final Edition'. The 'Final Edition' featured different framing and significantly altered the colour timing (much of the green filtering was removed), resulting in a cleaner transfer at the expense of the filmmakers' vision. It was this version that all subsequent DVD releases of the film were based on.
Imagine my surprise then to discover that Tartan's UK version of Oldboy has more in common with the Starmax Special Edition than any other release! My suspicions were first aroused when I noticed that the chapter stops corresponded to those on the Korean disc, rather than those on the UK disc. In order to test my theory I popped the UK DVD into my player and switched between the inputs. There was a definite green tint to the Blu-ray image; one that simply wasn't there on the DVD. The framing of the transfers also appeared to be different, so I pulled my Korean SE out of storage and checked the Blu-ray edition against that reference version—the framing was identical.
However, the BD release is not a carbon copy of the Starmax SE. For one thing the green filtering, while present, is not as pronounced as it is on the Korean disc. At first I was unable to decide if it was just a case of my eyes playing tricks on me, but after examining numerous scenes I'm convinced that they're not. When comparing a number of key scenes (featured in the screen caps here) it was evident that the Special Edition transfer contained more green than the Blu-ray transfer. Think the original release of The Matrix for a rough idea.
As one would expect, the level of detail in the image is definitely a notch or two above the standard DVD efforts. Even from ten feet away there were obvious improvements over the up-converted DVD version, and as I moved closer the differences became even clearer. For example, I was able to discern the intricate lettering on a set of chopsticks for the first time ever, and virtually every scene revealed previously hidden detail. Obviously the film's visual style isn't going to appeal to everyone—indeed, the murky blacks, bleached out colours and heavy filtering have come in for a fair bit of criticism—but at the end of the day this transfer is representative of the source material, which is all you can really ask for.
What do we have here? Another DTS-HD Master Audio track, this time in 7.1! Of course I couldn't listen to it because virtually no Blu-ray players or external amplifiers are capable of decoding the format at this time... Instead I listened to the DTS Core track, which should be of the 1.5Mbps variety. However, at least one source has stated that the Core identifies itself as 768Kbps on a PlayStation 3, but I have no way of verifying this. Other audio options include Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 EX, along with English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 dubs (which should be avoided).
To be honest, without the benefit of Master Audio I couldn't really detect much of a difference between this new track and the DTS tracks on previous releases, and comparisons with the Dolby EX track also proved inconclusive. When listening via multi-channel analogue the Dolby was louder, but when using legacy coaxial bitstream the DTS had the ‘edge’. In the end I settled on the DTS track because I thought it sounded slightly more natural than the Dolby effort, but there wasn’t much in it. As before the mix is very atmospheric, with all manner of subtle effects used to draw the listener into the action.
It's the little things that impressed me, such as the falling rain during the opening scenes, or the click of the ventilation system in Dae-su's prison as it deactivated. Small attention to detail can be just as satisfying as bombastic effects. Dialogue is clear and consistent throughout, and bass is potent when it needs to be. Jo Yeong-wook's score is a personal favourite of mine and it makes impressive and consistent use of the surrounds, perhaps more so than any other element of the soundtrack. All things considered this is a good effort, but I wish I’d been able to listen to the lossless audio.
The included English subtitles are free from grammatical errors, but differ slightly from those on the original Korean DVD. I have a feeling they edge closer to more Western-friendly translations than that particular release. The subs occasionally flashed by a little too quickly for my liking, but that could very well be an issue with my player as other reviews haven’t mentioned it. It wasn’t a problem for me because I’m quite familiar with the film, but it would be royal pain in the arse for anyone trying to follow the story for the first time.
This new Blu-ray edition of Oldboy includes not one, not two, but three commentary tracks. Because I've previously reviewed these tracks I only made a partial sampling of each, rather than reading them all the way through, but my familiarity gave me a pretty good feeling for them.
First up is a solo track with Park Chan-wook, who gives a thorough analysis of the film. He explains the reasoning behind various creative decisions, as well as pointing out that not everything in the film should be over-analysed (the ants for example). The second track is a technical commentary with director Park and cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun. I’m not really into technical tracks, but if lots of talk about green filters and bleach-bypass is your cup of tea you’ll find plenty of worth here. The third and final track featuring the director and cast is easily the most enjoyable. The participants bounce off of one another and joke around while discussing the film, ensuring a nice balance between informative commentary and anecdotal chat.
Moving on we come to a selection of deleted scenes, all with optional commentary from Park Chan-wook. I was actually very interested to see these because I don’t own a copy of Tartan UK’s original two-disc release of the film (just the one in the Vengeance Trilogy boxed set and both the Korean Special and Final editions). There are around twenty minutes of deleted scenes in total, with most being alternate takes or short additions. However, there are three scenes that stand out, namely the full improvised 'police station' scene, Oh Dae-su's first day in prison and an alternate kissing scene that was filmed in case the sex scene was too strong for Korean censors.
None of the scenes needed to be in the film—indeed, some of them would have slowed the pace to a crawl—but I found them interesting all the same. Park's commentary is also revealing, although he starts by informing the viewer that he hates recording commentary tracks for his films and dislikes providing commentary for deleted scenes even less. The film’s original theatrical trailer is also included to round things off. It's worth mentioning that all non-commentary bonus material is presented in standard (576i) definition.
Although it wasn't included with my BD check disc, I am reliably informed that the retail release comes with a standard definition copy of the film. The reasoning behind this is that if you have yet to invest in a Blu-ray player you can watch the SD version now, then check out the BD version when you have the necessary hardware. While this is all well and good in theory, I'm sure it bumped the retail price of the package up without lending any real value. You can buy a copy of Oldboy on DVD for a fiver to keep you going until you have bought into high-def, by which time the BD version of the film will be cheaper anyway...
Well, what’s to say? Overall this is a solid presentation of one of my favourite films, but I can't help feeling a little ripped off by the comparative lack of extras. When you consider the material that's available on the various standard definition releases and even the US Blu-ray release, this UK effort really doesn't measure up. The astronomical £24.99 asking price is also pretty hard to swallow when you consider what's on offer, although you should be able to pick it up for around eighteen pounds if you shop around.
The increased visual quality is welcome and goes some way towards compensating for the lack of bonus material, but I really wish that Tartan (and other studios) would provide lossless audio tracks that people can actually enjoy without buying new amplifiers. Given Blu-ray's much vaunted disc capacity, is it too much to ask for a PCM track? Anyway, this is still the best presentation of Oldboy that I've seen to date, so I have no hesitation in recommending it to fans of the film. With that said, be aware that the US Blu-ray release is cheaper, region free and has more extras...
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 23rd October 2007
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Korean, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Director's Commentary, Director and Cinematographer Commentary, Director and Cast Commentary, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong
Genre: Mystery and Thriller
Length: 120 minutes
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