Time heals no wounds in Oldboy, an emotional horror movie from South Korea. This grueling revenger's tragedy was the Grand Jury Prize winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and purportedly jury member Quentin Tarantino's fave. That's no wonder, given its unconventional and potent narrative, adapted from a manga (a Japanese comic book). Park Chan-wook's film is heavily plotted and wholly incredible (like David Fincher's similarly grungy films), but impressionistic. Oldboy is not meant to be taken literally, but to be felt for its extremes of human emotion.
Anchored by a feral and resonant performance by Min-sik Choi, Oldboy tells the story of two men whose obscure connection in the past leads them ultimately to seek revenge on each other. Since Oldboy is a cleverly structured mystery, the less you know, the more you'll enjoy the story. Suffice it to say that a drunken lout named Oh Dae-Su (Choi) wakes up in a sealed apartment, nominally fed with dumplings and the televised waves of history. Without knowing why, he spends fifteen years under the thumb of an unseen captor. Once out, Oh Dae-Sue is on a mission of vengeance.
The mystery ends up having something to do with a sort of "oldboy network," but the title also implies the arrested development of its characters. As ever, there's also a girl wrapped up in the puzzle (Gang Hye-Jung), a definite and complicated love interest for Oh Dae-Su. School-days flashbacks make the story juicier, if no more believable, with perverse sexuality and pubescent motivations. Mostly, Oldboy—the second in a proposed revenge trilogy—noodles over the nature of vengeance: its confinement of the mind, its point-of-no-return transformation of the soul.
Park gives his relentless and masterfully edited film the visual, visceral intensity of a graphic novel, a hallucination, or a nightmare; the faint-hearted may not appreciate Oldboy's diabolical horrors, though they're in keeping with the broad strokes of classical rip-roarers like Titus Andronicus (or The Count of Monte Cristo, which the villain name-drops). The director's Fincher-esque style may finally beat out intellectual substance, but it's a fair fight, grounded in the existential horror of essential emotional truths. "What happens," Oh Dae-Su asks, "after you revenge yourself?"
Palisades Tartan has brought its jewel in the crown to Blu-ray with its four-disc Vengeance Trilogy box set, collecting Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. The hi-def transfer for Oldboy has its faults, but keep in mind that the source material is challenging. This transfer gets high marks for trouncing the previous DVD editions with more accurate color and contrast, better black level, and greater detail; still, there are digital artifacts in the form of noise and ringing—perhaps these are unavoidable given the dark and rough source. A larger issue arises in the sound department: despite the promise on the case of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, it's nowhere to be found on this disc (though it is on the previously issued standalone BD). There are four "lossy" audio options: Dolby Digital-EX 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 (dubbed English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (dubbed English)—the first of these is the best, though it can't hold a candle to lossless audio. Naturally, the film has optional subtitles.
A Best Buy exclusive until June 15, 2010, the set is currently available in a limited-edition tin enclosing three standard Blu cases and a lovely thirty-page booklet including essays by director Eli Roth (Hostel), producer Don Murphy (Natural Born Killers), stunt coordinator/author John Kreng, and writer-director/producer Susan Montford (Splice), as well as a brief Giant Robot interview with Park.
Bonus features amount to eight hours of fantastic material, starting with a trio of in-depth commentary tracks: audio commentary with director Park Chan-Wook; audio commentary with Park and actors Choi Min-sik, Kang Hye-jeong, and Yu Ji-tae; and audio commentary with Park and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon.
Ten "Deleted Scenes" (24:29, HD) come with optional director's commentary.
Next up are five Behind the Scenes Documentaries: "CGI Documentary" (7:06, SD), "Flashback" (23:34, SD), "Making the Film: The Cast Remembers" (10:55, SD), "The Music Score" (16:48, SD) and "Production Design" (13:12, SD).
"Cast & Crew Interviews" (49:50, SD) include behind-the-scenes footage and extensive chats with Park, Choi Min-sik, producer Im Seung-yong, cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Yun Jin-seo, Ji Dae-han, Kim Byoung-ok, Oh Dal-su, Oh Kwang-rok, and Lee Seung-Shin.
"The Autobiography of Oldboy" (3:29:37, SD) should've gotten its own disc, thereby allowing the inclusion of the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. This doc would certainly be deserving of the extra attention—it is gloriously exhaustive, built out of raw production footage and comments from cast and crew. It's a model of the video-diary style making-of and utterly fascinating to absorb if you can make the time for it.
"Le Grand Prix at Cannes" (8:49, SD) includes footage of the cast and crew running the Cannes gauntlet, along with retrospective interviews about the experience.
Last up is the "Original Trailer" (1:30, HD)
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