Tartan Films
120 min.
Commentaries w/ dir. Park Chan-wook, cast, and crew
• Production featurettes
• Deleted scenes w/ commentary
• Cast and crew interviews
• "Le Grand Prix at Cannes" featurette
• Collector’s film cells
• Volume 1 of the Oldboy manga
• "The Autobiography of Oldboy" 212 minute video diary

The Pitch

Ian! Don’t put Oldboy in your pants!"


The Humans

Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong.

The Nutshell

Oh Dae-su
is a super-hero when he’s drunk. At least, he believes he is. Turns out his
kryptonite is "standing on a sidewalk," because that’s where he is
abducted from one night which seems no different from the rest. For the next
fifteen years, he is imprisoned in a cubby the size of a hotel room, with no
explanation from his captors and no window to the outside world apart from a
television set.

On the
day his mysterious jailors release him, his vengeance begins. In five days,
he’ll cut a swathe through the underworld, the overworld, and any other
godforsaken world he can find on a quest to put reason to his imprisonment, and
a gun to the temple of the enemy he didn’t know he had.

He may appear friendly and affectionate,
but his nose is dry and he has a history of biting children.

The Lowdown

I see films that are so oblique in their presentation that I have to spend way
too much time explaining what they mean, such as A Tale of Two Sisters. Other
times, a film is so heavy-handed that I spend my critical time sticking up for
the audience’s intelligence. Once in a blue moon, a film nails its subject
material so perfectly that I wonder what I’m doing here. If you haven’t yet
seen Oldboy,
do so as soon as you can. It says everything I’m about to with much greater
clarity and eloquence.

One of
the hallmarks of enduring fiction, cinematic or otherwise, is the degree it
continues to reward an attentive audience. Many stories are rewarding at the
first experience, but fail to provide anything more than diminishing returns on
good memories beyond that. Oldboy is so densely layered a
story, with such balanced ambiguity and exposition, that it continues to offer
up insights even after watching it for the eighth time. Its web of character
interactions and plot points is variegated enough to make the task of following
each lead almost monstrous. There’s enough material folded into its two hours
to provide graduate students with their theses for years to come, be they on
philosophies of vengeance, kinetic cinematography, story revelation and
restraint, or audience manipulation.

Observe, children: the wild MacGuffin in its natural habitat.

I want to
comment more on that last bit. I’m not a big fan of audience manipulation,
partly because I fall for it too easily (I’m a sap) and partly because it’s
mostly employed to the simple end of getting some tears. Park Chan-wook has a
much keener motive for ensnaring his audiences. The way that Oldboy
unfolds first brings the audience into sympathy with Oh Dae-su, viewing
him not so much as an innocent but as a poor schlub. When he begins to extract
his revenge, it is through some of the most talked-about methods in the history
of the craft. These sequences are just dripping with cool; we root for Dae-su,
and for his cold heart and claw hammer.

Then what
seems for all intents to be a well-made thriller takes a turn for the operatic,
and the audience is brutalized into something approaching self-hatred — or at
least a sober self-consciousness — for cheering on the crummy, low-level
vengeance. The complicated conclusion brings on simultaneous heartbreak,
justification, remorse, repentance, and fury. Park manipulates the audience
into a place where instead of summoning a single cheap emotion, they are
required to actually examine their own motives for coming to the theater or for
popping in the disc. It’s an astonishingly successful piece of meta-story, made
all the better for not sacrificing even one gram of character consistency.

"I cream / You cream / We all cream / Our jeans for this scene."

Oldboy is a visceral experience the first
time you watch it. On repeat viewings, it takes on the quality of good literature,
with a story that rewards, but doesn’t require, unpacking. It’s an amazing
economy of fiction that Park developed; I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many
days of entertainment and edification are bundled up impossibly into these two

The Package

I don’t
need to tell you that the packaging awesome, but I will, because I tend toward
redundancy. It’s awesome. The case itself is a beautiful hinged number, with
artwork that riffs on that of the Band of Brothers tin, but with way
grittier source material.

contents are even better. Three whole discs of goodness. Disc one has the
feature, along with three feature-length commentaries. Director Park Chan-wook
contributes to all three; on one he’s alone, on the second he’s joined by his
cinematographer, and on the third he’s joined by his cast. Three completely
different sides of this extraordinarily talented man, and a three barrels of
insight, humor, anecdote, and camaraderie.

"Have you heard the good news of Jesus Christ and also of Geico?"

second disc is devoted to behind-the-scenes clips, with a brief making-of
featurette, a set of clips of cast members reminiscing, and featurettes on
production design, musical score, CGI effects, and project origins. There are
also extensive interviews with cast members (40 minutes’ worth), and ten
deleted scenes with optional commentary by Park. Finally, there’s a brief
featurette on Oldboy‘s reception at
Cannes the year it won the Grand Prix.

The third
disc is a monstrosity of information. Think of it as the monolith from 2001.
Only instead of stars, it’s full of everything you could possibly want to know
about the creation of this movie. It’s a video diary of each of the film’s
shooting days, 69 in total, which runs 212 minutes. That’s right, it’s
four-and-a-half hours of behind-the-scenes, with its own dramatic arc as we get
to see political scuffles, filmmaking challenges, and enthusiastic effort in
handheld glory. It’s an engrossing disc all on its own, and easily justifies
the price of this set.

Oh no! They’re taking them to Nova Prospekt!
Don’t worry, Dae-su; they have a reproduction dampening field in place.

additional pack-ins for you to delight in: Volume 1 of the Oldboy manga, by Garon
Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi. Mind you, that’s just Volume 1, so it only goes
up through Oh Dae-su hunting his captors via restaurant intel. It’s an
interesting choice, including the source material here, because it is so vastly
different from its cinematic sibling in its sense of pacing and

included is a little card featuring a quick bio of Oh Dae-su and of Choi
Min-sik, as well as a segment of film embedded in the cardboard. Mine shows a
very studious Kang Hye-jeong.

This is a
wonderful set. Not only is it a prime transfer of the film, but the included
bonus information is an encyclopedic as you’re liable to find. It’s worthy of
archival, and a great gift for any film lover worth his salt on your shopping

(Buy it
through CHUD from; it won’t arrive until after Christmas, probably,
but you’ll feel good about giving us a commission.)

9.5 out of 10