Asian, specifically Chinese, Hong Kong and Japanese, film has recently crept into the American consciousness. Films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Hero to the more recent Asian horror films of Ringu and Ju-on [which were remade by Hollywood into The Ring and The Grudge respectively] have made big bucks at the North American box office. Oldboy, directed by Park Chanwook (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, If You Were Me), is a South Korean import dripping with music video style.
Choi Min-sik stars as Oh Dae-su, a businessman with a wife and child, who likes to drink. One night he is abducted and spends 15 years trapped in a single room cell with no interaction to the outside world except for a television set. Once released with only a cell phone, he has only five days to find out the truth to his imprisonment. Along the way he meets and falls in love with Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) who helps him along his quest.
Oldboy is a mix of hyperreality and surrealism – the film’s visuals maintain the illusion to the themes of fantasy, hypnotism, realism and thought. The direction is consistent to the film’s style, but that consistency might be the film’s only flaw. With so much emphasis on blurring the boundaries of consciousness and hallucination, it’s hard to step away from that focus even though it’s not needed in every scene.
Some scenes fit perfectly with this style, especially in a sequence where Dae-su fights about 20 people to get to the other end of a cramped hallway. The sequence is done in an unedited side tracking shot, and the lack of any cuts during the shot helps to highlight the spontaneity of Dae-su fighting against such overwhelming odds and also the contrived unlikeliness of such a fight. Believability comes to question a lot in scenes like this.
There is another very well done scene involving Dae-su as he follows someone through a maze of staircases and walkways. This scene perfectly blends careful camerawork and focused direction to further distort the viewer’s perception. These scenes contrast the scenes toward the end of the film where the style becomes too deliberate and too distracting. After the “truth” comes out, the music video style becomes almost unnecessary and borderlines on overkill.
But the film is overall very well made, filled with a complex plot, imaginative fight sequences and a soundtrack sounding like a cross between Michael Nyman’s score of Gattaca and Clint Mantis’ score of Requiem For A Dream. Some things in the film might be considered absurd, but what television set are you viewing it with?
Video and Sound:
Both the video and sound are extremely sharp. With a widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35:1, there is a lot of room to feature the setting and props. There is no noticeable grain or scratches. The DVD features sound tracks in both Korean (Dolby Digital 6.1 EX) and English (Dolby Digital 5.1 EX). Both are clear and loud – those with the right home theatre set will not be disappointed.
There is a feature length commentary from both the Park and the cinematographer, Chung Chung-hoon. Both offer insightful explanations for the decisions made on the film – some minute details to things like the film’s lighting and color. The most interesting discussion is on the filming of the fight sequence in the hallway between Dae-su and about 20 men – taking 17 takes, apparently it was edited using CGI to correct mistakes like numerous misconnected punches.
There is a seven-minute interview with Park as he answers questions from what looks like film school students. He gives an interesting reason why ‘hands’ are so prominent in Oldboy. There are eight deleted scenes with option commentary. Most are extended scenes that add nothing of “real” value and ruin the film’s pacing, especially one elongated shot of Dae-su blow-drying Mi-do’s hair.
Also included is a photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer for Oldboy and also trailers for other Tartan Asia Extreme DVDs including Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, H, Heroic Duo, Tetsuo, A Tale Of Two Sisters, Wishing Stairs. Oldboy is also available in the UMD format for playback on the Sony PSP.