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? With the DVD released by Tartan months ago, there is more a buzz surrounding 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.
Preserving the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, "Oldboy" manages to retain its attention to detail even on the PSP screen. The quality is comparable to Tartan's DVD release, giving the film a muted look that adds to the dimensions of the feature. The colors are a shade soft, but you will see this in every version of "Oldboy" released from Region 1 DVD to imports. It is advised to remain under normal lighting conditions indoors for "Oldboy". Even trace amounts of direct sunlight will lead to loss of background detail and ultimately the loss of some plot points. The subtitles are white and try and remain on the black bars below the picture. This accents the crisp dialogue my translating the Korean language with ease on the PSP. Even with a 4.3" screen, you should be able to read the subtitles from a comfortable distance with no trouble.
Of course, the excellent DTS track is not included on this UMD. One of the great details about "Oldboy" is its sound. The music adds depth, the raw nature of various action scenes are loaded with emotion, and there are great aural subtleties in the film. Being downgraded to a 2-channel track takes away a lot of the depth that the DVD can provide. Combining the UMD with amplified speakers will aid in retaining some of the sound, as will the use of some nice earphones. One of the nice things about the Korean language track is even if you are forced to use the faceplate speakers, most people around you will have no idea what is going on unless they sneak a peek over your shoulder. Just remember the screams and grunts of agony that are scattered throughout the movie are in the universal language of pain, so earphones may be necessary in public.
The deleted scenes on the UMD are reason alone for "Oldboy" fans to snap up this release. In what seems to be a growing trend with UMD releases, Tartan Video has added scenes from the cutting room floor that are exclusive to the UMD. These two non-anamorphic scenes run together with the timecode still intact. One is alternate angles on the famed hallway fight, while the other is more of an extended scene that revolves around the loaded plot. A trailer for "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance" and "Oldboy" are both included on the UMD as well.
"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 intricacy the film provides. Tartan has decided to give their UMD two exclusive deleted scenes which brings added value to the PSP version of the film. In gaining portability, the UMD does sacrifice some of the detail in sound. For those who can't get enough "Oldboy", the UMD is easy to recommend. For those who haven't seen the movie, "Oldboy" is for those film fans who like their movies with an edge.