Oldboy (2003)
By: Devon B. on October 5, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Rialto Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (Non-anamorphic). Korean DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 120 minutes
The Movie
Director: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang, Dae-han Ji
Screenplay: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Chan-wook Park
Country: South Korea
Oldboy is the new film from Chanwook Park, director of JSA. I was very impressed with JSA so was eager to catch Oldboy.

The film's beginning is a bit disjointed, introducing the drunk and disorderly Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik of The Quiet Family). He gets arrested, gets bailed, and then the film cuts to him detained in what looks like a grotty studio flat. This is not a standard prison, as he gets gassed, tested on, fed the same meal everyday, and doesn't even know why he's being held or how long he'll be kept. He spends 15 years in the prison, trying to figure out why he was taken. Naturally, he goes a bit crazy.

Oh Dae-su has to rely on TV for human "contact" and as a time keeping device. From the tele he learns that his wife had been murdered and he was blamed for her death. As the years pass, his anger grows, and he trains himself to fight. When he is finally set free, he tries to learn why he was captured and confined.

Oldboy has a nice, deliberate pace, but is unfortunately a bit overlong. The film needed to lose about 10 minutes, but the strong imagery helps prevent the movie from becoming too cumbersome even during the final minutes. The cinematography is great, making excellent use of camera angles and the widescreen format. I particularly enjoyed a split screen section which showed the passage of time in Oh Dae-su's prison against events on television, creating a media timeline. A hallway fight, shot in one take and requiring three days of filming to get right, will undoubtedly be the highlight for many cineophiles, but I found the scene's choreography a little too weak to be overly impressed. Oldboy has a few other things like live octopus consumption and a nasty scene involving a hammer that will get people talking, but I think the most disturbing image comes very early on and involves a yuckily placed ant.

I was glad to see Yu Ji-Tae on hand as the bad guy. Yu is in two of my favourite Korean films, Attack the Gas Station! and Nightmare, and is particularly good in the later. He is also in the dreadful Natural City (the only film I've ever walked out on in a cinema), but I'll forgive him that egregious mistake. Unfortunately, I didn't find Yu's master plan hard to unravel at all, which meant I had to take Oldboy as a purely visual experience.

I enjoyed the film's occasional dark comedic touches, but overall this film is not in the same league as JSA. I think JSA's main strength was exceptional development of the characters' relationships with each other. While Oldboy is littered with interesting characters, the way they relate to each other is not unique, or particularly deep.
The back of the box says Oldboy is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is wrong; it's in the correct ratio of 2.35:1. That's good. However, the box also says the disc is anamorphic widescreen, which is also wrong. That's not so good. The print is a little soft, but not to the extent I'd even have noticed if I hadn't been reviewing the movie. There is still the standard amount of specks one should expect to find on a film coming from Asia, but otherwise the print is in good nick.
Oldboy is available in Korean Dolby Digital 5.1. No complaints here. The music is clear and crisp, and the dialog remains audible. Not that I can understand any of it. There are removable English subtitles. The subs have typos and weird grammar, but this is possibly intentional because one line is quoted three times and is always presented with incorrect wording.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with the film's trailer and an image gallery.
The Verdict
While Oldboy is flawed, it is definitely a film worth seeing. If you check it out and want to own it, I'd say track down the UK release on Tartan DVD. While I haven't seen that version, the disc appears to have plentiful extras and might actually be 16:9 enhanced like it says.
Movie Score
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