Cast: Min-Sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes
It is one of the Internet Movie Database's top 250 movies ever. It was given four stars by Roger Ebert. Harry Knowles liked it so much he recorded a commentary track for the Region 3 DVD. So how come most people haven't heard of "Oldboy?" Maybe the general public still has some deep seeded hatred for subtitled movies. How many times have you recommended a great foreign film to have someone get upset for having to read the movie? Honestly, the less you know about this flick the better off you are. I won't even go into details about the plot to preserve the sheer joy of uncovering a cinematic gem for those who are willing to seek this one out.
Everything about this movie is flawless. After "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance", "Oldboy" is the second in director Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy ("Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" was recently released in Korea). The movies are linked by theme, so don't feel you have to watch them in a particular order. "Oldboy" has a deep and well layered story, music would make Stanley Kubrick smile, and extraordinary use of patterns which are unparalleled. I am usually not this giddy about a movie, but I was simply blown away by Park's attention to detail and very controlled style. As he unfolds the intricate story, you realize that you find out what is going on as Oh Dae-su finds out what is going on. I applaud the person who knows nothing about the movie and figures out everything that is happening before it is revealed in the movie (though I find it impossible). The acting is superb and there are so many beautiful camera shots in the movie it should be a sin.
My initial experience with Chan-wook Park is very similar to my Quentin Tarantino experience in 1994. I was amazed by "Pulp Fiction" and could not believe how great it was on so many different levels. The difference is at the time of "Pulp Fiction", I was still very green in my movie going experience. I hadn't really seen many great movies, so it was that much easier for me to be blown away. Now, I am always watching movies. I always see as many Academy Award nominees as I can as well as Oscar snubs like "Donnie Darko". How a movie like "Oldboy" can be around since 2003 and not gather more attention from American audiences is simply crazy to me. This isn't recommended for those looking for a happy Steven Spielberg type movie. It is an intense revenge flick that will leave you speechless as the credits roll.
In addition to a great movie, the anamorphic picture is stunning. Colors are rich and vibrant, allowing the cinematography of Jeong-hun Jeong to unfold a story of beautiful patterns and luscious backdrops. Compression artifacts are all but gone from Tartan's release, leaving us with a great looking picture.
Sound is another area where the disc excels. With the Korean tracks in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, your speakers are in for a workout. Ambient sound fills the room at every opportunity without sounding forced. The music is powerful throughout all speakers as there is excellent dynamic range in the mix. The stronger bitrate has again given the DTS track an edge over its Dolby Digital counterpart, but both will capture the feel of the movie with impressive results.
Also included is an English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. While I applaud the 5.1 mix, I am not a fan of dubbed tracks when the original language track and subtitles are available. I noticed with the release of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that English dubs have improved quite a bit, but the still cannot replace the passion and power of the original actor's voice. The dub will detach you from outstanding performances by Min-Sik Choi and Ji-tae Yu, dramatically sacrificing the movie experience. Don't be afraid of subtitles. Preserve the original language of the film as you would the aspect ratio.
The extra features are pretty good on this disc. First, we are treated to a commentary track by director Chan-wook Park and cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong. As crew commentaries usually do, this one leans towards the technical side of the film. For those interested in how the movie was made, this fairly dry commentary will shower you with information. The deleted scenes (21:51) are primarily composed of a longer cut of the opening scene and come with an optional director commentary. After watching them, it is clear why the scenes were cut or trimmed, but their inclusion on the disc is welcomed. Also included is an interview with Chan-wook Park (7:01) in which he answers a number of questions about his film. It serves as a small companion piece to the commentary track. Rounding out the DVD is a Photo Gallery and trailers, which includes the "Oldboy" Trailer Contest winner. It gave one lucky fan the chance to shine with a unique trailer for the film.
"Oldboy" is easily the best movie I have seen this year. I willingly watched this masterpiece four times in three days which is extremely uncommon for me. It is just that good. The subject matter is going to turn many viewers off, as will some of the violence. Again, the less you know about this movie, the better your experience will be, so take a chance with the subtitles and check it out. This one may require a second viewing to capture all of the subtleties the film provides. "Oldboy" is highly recommended for those who like their movies with an edge.