Film Reviews

Oldboy (2003) – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review

Since its theatrical release in 2003, Oldboy has received a number of home releases.  Now Arrow Entertainment gives the film its UHD 4k debut with what may very well serve as the definitive statement on this terrific second chapter in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy.

Oldboy tells the story of Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a man captured and imprisoned for 15 years, after his 1988 arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour.  With no idea why he is there, he spends his incarceration in a hotel room shadowboxing and getting fit, whilst planning his escape.  Released in 2003, he meets Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), a chef who looks after him as he seeks to learn the truth of his imprisonment.  Finding the culprit, Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), he learns that he is being punished for the events that led to his nemesis’s sister killing herself as a teenager.

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On the second disc (not provided for us to review) is the Blu-ray version of the film, augmented by ‘Old Day: An Oldboy Story’, a feature length documentary discussing the movie, as well as a three and a half hour video diary covering the production.  Although not new, this aids in making this release accessible to those considering – but yet to make – the jump to 4K.

This is not to say that disc one is comprised of all new content.  It is best to think of this as a compilation of the various bonuses that have been released over the years, complemented by an excellent new transfer for the actual feature presentation.  Take the commentaries.  There are an impressive four talk tracks included, but none of them were recorded specifically for this release.

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The first is a sole track from the director, and in the second he discusses Oldboy with his cinematographer Jung Jung-hoon.  The first appears to be recorded around the time of the theatrical release – with the director discussing changes he expects to make for the home release; while the second seems to be as they are both moving on to their next projects.  The two tracks complement each other, with the second expanding on things Park discussed when alone.  For example the technique of bleach bypass – the method of putting a monochrome print over the colour print to cause what we best understand as de-saturisation is something both describe at length.

The third commentary sees Park team with actors Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung to discuss the film and their experiences making it.  This is the lightest, most fun of the tracks.  Rounding off the commentaries is a track with critics and writers Jesper Sharp and Simon Ward.  This track is dry, but very informative, as they discuss the wider works of Park Chan-wook, and they prove very knowledgeable on Korean cinema in general.

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Next up is ‘Out of the Past’, a video appreciation of over 30 minutes from Tony Rayns, an Asian cinema specialist who produced a very similar work for the recent re-release of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.  It is not the most visually thrilling feature, but he is excellent value for the running time.  From there we move on to around 25 minutes of deleted scenes (10 in total) with optional director’s commentary.  As Park makes clear, the version of the film released was the version he wanted, and he is of the belief that most of these scenes add little.  Given that a full 11 minutes is taken up by Dae-su’s improvised scenes of drunken behaviour in the police station at the start of the film, it would be difficult to disagree with the director on this point.

There are six behind the scenes featurettes covering everything from production design, to CG, to the film going to the Cannes Film Festival.  They range from seven to 24 minutes in length, with the feature on music, with the director and composer discussing scenes from the film being the standout.  This is followed immediately with 12 interviews with cast and crew.  Although we kick off with a 24 minute interview with Park, most of these are 3-5 minutes in length and, as with most of the bonus features, they are standard definition extras shot at the time of the film’s release, and seemingly all from the same Korean language feature on the film.

A flaw with both of these sets of features is the lack of a ‘play all’ function.  To be constantly interacting with the menu, only to find ourselves back at the menu screen three minutes later is a disappointment.  It would also have been nice to have a new roundtable with the key players, but this is a minor disappointment.  Rounding off the extras is a photo gallery – largely comprised of images captured on-set, and a handful of trailers from the original release and this re-release.

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The film is available with a choice of 5.1 or stereo Korean tracks, as well as the option to watch the film with a dubbed English track.  The English version is decent, if amusing in its slight tendency towards over-enthusiasm.  If we were to close our eyes it sounds more like a radio play, or an episode of The Archers.  All such options increase accessibility, however, and it is nothing like as poor as the equivalent track on the recent Pinocchio release.

Oldboy is a masterpiece.  Those looking to buy this release will know this already.  Although there is a general lack of new product, this is a well-assembled set that provides hours of bonus content, all of which is accessible, enjoyable, and illuminating to a well-planned and executed piece of work.  This complements a fine transfer, with excellent sound quality and a good range of viewing options.  Recommended.

Oldboy is out on 4K UHD Blu-ray on 25th January from Arrow Video.

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