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Feature


On a rainy evening in Seoul in the year 1988, a seemingly average businessman 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 has seen a number of Blu-ray releases over the years, most of which have been based on a very old DVD-era master. In my review of the Tartan UK release of the film I praised the disc for its theatrically accurate colour scheme, which was something that most DVD releases lacked (you can read more about these differences in the aforementioned review). Although things have moved on and standards have risen in the intervening years, I stand by the comments I made in the review. At the time it was the best looking version of Oldboy and not a bad effort overall considering it was released early in the Blu-ray format’s lifecycle (by a distributor in financial difficulty at that).

However, Park Chan-wook was obviously dissatisfied with the various home video releases, leading him to oversee a digital restoration of the film last year. The new restoration found its way onto the Korean Plain Archive releases of the film and was a marked improvement on what had come before. Unfortunately I lack the ability to play region A discs, so I was happy to learn that German distributor Capelight had released its own editions utilising the restored transfer. Capelight offer a number of different versions, comprising of the Steelbook release I’m reviewing here, a Mediabook that also includes a DVD copy of the film and a soundtrack CD, and an Ultimate Edition that includes everything found in the Mediabook, plus the ‘Old Days’ documentary, art cards and part one of the manga.

Video


Presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080p/24 AVC), Oldboy has honestly never looked better than it does here. There are improvements across the board, but the first thing that struck me was the framing, which now shows far more of the image than previous editions, greatly improving the composition of some scenes. The other, perhaps most noticeable amelioration, is the colour grading, which is now far more vibrant and natural whilst retaining the film’s stylised aesthetic. Contrast is also improved, rectifying the slightly milky appearance of blacks in the older transfer without introducing serious crush. The gamma also appears to be slightly different to the Plain Archive version, with the Capelight endeavour being slightly darker (which actually benefits the film).

Another positive is the increased level of detail on offer. Although I’d never describe Oldboy as sharp, fine details are definitely resolved with greater accuracy than any previous version. This must be at least partially attributed to the compression, which is markedly improved over the UK release, displaying finer and more natural grain. That’s not to say it’s perfect of course, as compression artefacts are still visible in places. Even so, as stated by Park himself in various interviews, this is clearly the best available version of Oldboy from a purely visual standpoint.

Audio


Capelight’s Blu-ray includes 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in both the original Korean and dubbed German, along with English and German subtitles. This is in contrast to Tartan’s UK Blu-ray release, which features a Korean 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, along with Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 EX, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 dubs (which should be avoided). I don’t really see the drop to 5.1 as an issue, as it was the film’s original audio mix rather than an upconverted effort.

Regardless of the channel configuration it’s still the little things that impress me with this track: the sound of falling rain during the opening scenes; the click of the ventilation system deactivating in Dae-su's prison. These and numerous other effects are proof positive that subtle environmental effects can be just as satisfying as bombastic ones. Dialogue is well-prioritised throughout, while 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 very good effort.

The included English subtitles differ to those found on the Korean and UK DVDs and Blu-ray. They allegedly offer a more accurate translation of the original Korean dialogue, which seems plausible when comparing them to the older efforts.

Extras


Now the bad news, at least for those of you who don’t understand Korean or read German… None of the bonus material included in this release is subtitled in English. It’s a pity, because there’s some good stuff here, as seen below. Fortunately most, if not all of the material has been included on previous English-friendly releases, so fans are unlikely to be missing out on anything. Although you are of course going to need to own multiple copies... Anyway, here’s a breakdown of what’s included.

  • Audio commentary by director Park Chan-wook
  • Audio commentary by director Park Chan-wook and cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun
  • Audio commentary by director Park Chan-wook and actors Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae and Kang Hye-jeong
  • Trailer
  • ’Making of’
    • Production story
    • Audition
    • Characterizing
    • Hunting
    • Reading
    • Crank in
    • Production Design
    • Original soundtrack
    • VFX
  • Flashback/Making of Documentary - Part 2
  • ’Autobiography of Oldboy’ documentary
  • Interviews with the Cast & Crew
    • Park Chan-wook (director)
    • Tsuchiya Garon (writer)
    • Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su)
    • Yoo Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin)
    • Kang Hye-jeong (Mi-do)
    • Yoon Jin-seo (Leo Soo-ah)
    • Chi Dae-han (Joo-hwan)
    • (Kim Byeong-ok (Mr. Han)
    • Oh Dal-su (Park Cheol-woong)
    • Lee Seung-jin (Hyung-ja)
    • Oh Kwang-rok
  • Le Grand Prix de Cannes
  • Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary
  • ’Bring My Love’ music video by Starsailor
  • Teaser & Trailers
    • Teaser (1:11)
    • TV Spot (0:33)
    • German Trailer (2:15)

Overall


The various Plain Archive and Capelight releases have their relative merits, but when you consider that the former are now out of print and fetch silly prices on the second hand market, the German disc represents the best value for money. Okay, so the extras aren’t much use to those of us who don’t understand German or Korean, but I buy Blu-rays primarily for their audio-visual qualities and I feel that Capelight’s effort is now the best available version from that standpoint.

In all honesty this release really shows up the earlier Blu-rays visually speaking, and although I stand by the video score I awarded in my review of the Tartan disc (it was almost ten years ago and things move on!), a side-by-side comparison with this disc is a real eye-opener. Of course the film remains just as powerful and stylish as ever, ranking as perhaps my favourite foreign feature (although it’s a close run thing with some of Park’s other films). If you’re a really big fan like me this is definitely worthy of your money, be it in Steelbook or Mediabook form. The Ultimate Edition might also be worth a look if you really want the ‘Old Days’ documentary (which I believe is subtitled in English), but that will set you back in excess of fifty pounds.

* Note: The images below 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.

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