Oh Dae-su is an ordinary Seoul businessman with a wife and little daughter who, after a drunken night on the
town, is abducted and locked up in a strange, private "prison." No one will tell him why he’s there and who his
jailer is. Over time his fury builds to a single-minded focus of revenge. 15 years later, he is unexpectedly freed,
given a new suit, a cell-phone and 5 days to discover the mysterious enemy who had him imprisoned.
For more about Oldboy and the Oldboy Blu-ray release, see Oldboy Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on November 23, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Imagine your life suddenly ripped from your grasp. You find yourself in an apartment prison where you are routinely fed, gassed and hypnotized. You have no clue why you are there or who has imprisoned you. From TV broadcasts, you realize that you have been framed for the murder of your wife and even if you could escape, your family would not welcome you back. Everything has been taken from you: freedom, relationships, human contact. The hours stretch into weeks, which stretch into years and one thought keeps you going: to discover the identity of your captor and exact full revenge. Suddenly, after 15 years, you are freed with no explanation.
With a new suit, a cellphone, a pocketful of cash and a beautiful, mysterious girlfriend, Oh Dae-su finds himself released from a small apartment where he was held in isolation for 15 years.
This hellish story is only the premise of Oldboy, which follows Korean everyman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-Sik) as he tries to uncover the identity and motive of his captor and get revenge. Dae-su quickly discovers that the prison was safe compared to the maze he must navigate to unravel the mysteries that dog him. But rage and hate inflate Dae-su's courage and strength, making him a fierce animal, bristling with raw energy and power.
Borrowing heavily from older Japanese films and modern Hollywood thrillers, director Park Chanwook achieves a noirish style that could be described as "Polanski meets Tarantino". The pacing of the film is relentless and the acting is staggering in its power and purity. The directing, acting and cinematography combine to breathe life into the most horrifying elements of the plot--the power of revenge and its lack of moral framework. Various quotes, such as one line about a grain of sand and a rock sinking equally in water, are often repeated in the film. These wisps of poetry hint at transcendence--an odd counterpoint to the brutality and revolting elements of the film.
Oldboy is essentially a character study depicting the way vengeance consumes lives and souls. But it is no simple story because it tackles plotlines that examine the mechanics of revenge on many levels. The film goes from mystery to prophecy to repulsive oddity while keeping audiences riveted. Peeling the story back layer by layer, much like Chinatown, Oldboy becomes increasingly ugly and disturbing. Viewers will not like what they find. But they can't turn away or reject any element of the story. There are simply no missteps in the film's conception; no loose ends to unravel any element of Oldboy.
With a gracefully stylized approach to the visuals, Oldboy is a perfect candidate for Blu-ray release. The camera angles and framing of each shot are impeccable. Any videophile or film afficianado will consider Oldboy a treat in this 1080p release. Colors achieve a suitable richness such that the vibrancy does not dominate the noir elements and textures of shadow and neon.
The imagery in this rich, high-resolution picture is staggering. Watch the restaurant scene after Dae-su is released and requests to eat "something living". What follows is one of the most visually astonishing feats ever captured on film, as Dae-su is served a live cephalopod--I think it's an octopus--and proceeds to eat it as its tentacles flail wildly around his face. Each delicate appendage is perfectly resolved as it probes and wraps itself around Dae-su's chin, cheeks and neck.
Indeed, the stress of Dae-su's predicament is permanently stamped in the lines of his face, his eyes and stubble. With such important details to mine, no NTSC image can do this film justice. But the depth and definition of the picture in the Blu-ray version is quite extraordinary. Kudos to Tartan Video and Asia Extreme for the commitment to quality here.
Almost as impressive as the video is the audio quality. One of the few examples of 7.1 DTS-HD, Oldboy boasts a modern, haunting soundtrack. The repeating melody and the gruff sound of Dae-su's voice itself become audible planets in the film, anchored in familiarity, and other audio cues revolve around them like satellites. Indeed, recorded audio plays a key role in the plot, and the clarity and definition is suitable in the DD 5.1 track as well as the DTS-HD. A PCM track would be nice, but there may not be enough capacity on the 50-GB Blu-ray to include 7.1 PCM with the MPEG-4 AVC.
With the cult following of Oldboy, Tartan understood the importance of including ample supplementary material. In fact, an entire bonus disc is included. Unfortunately, the bonus disc is standard definition, but even the Blu-ray itself is packed with special features. These include a feature with optional English, director commentary, cast commentary, cinematographer commentary, the original trailer and deleted scenes with optional commentary.
The standard definition bonus disc includes five behind the scenes documentaries: Making the Film--The Cast Remembers; Production Design; The Music Score; CGI Documentary; and Flashback. A featurette entitled "Le Grand Prix at Cannes" is included as well as cast and crew interviews.
Oldboy is not for everyone. The Korean language makes it exotic and also inaccessible to viewers who find subtitles sterile. The bristling characterization of Dae-Su will undoubtedly put off other viewers. But it is the uderlying secrets later rising to the surface of the story that are genuinely disturbing on every level. No viewer will be immune to these unsavory developments, but some may find them so revolting that they overshadow any redeeming qualities. The film does have many such qualities, though they are not always easy to see. The disturbing twists go beyond vengeance, so consider this a warning for those not in the mood to experience repulsion and shock.
Tartan Video USA, the US division of the UK-based, art-house distributor Tartan Films, has been shut down. As of June 1st, Tartan shut their doors and auctioned off the US distribution rights to their library of approximately 100 films to Palisades Media Corp, ...