Often cited as one of the best films of the 2000s and possibly the definitive example of extreme Asian cinema, Oldboy is a brutal, lyrical modern classic of the revenge genre.
Based on the Japanese manga of the same name, the film tells the horrific tale of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a businessman who is inexplicably kidnapped and imprisoned in a grim hotel room-like cell for 15 years, without knowing his captor or the reason for his incarceration. Eventually released, he learns of his wife’s murder and embarks on a quest for revenge whilst also striking up a romance with a young, attractive sushi chef, Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung). He eventually finds his tormentor, but their final encounter will yield yet more unimaginable horrors...
Directed with immense flair by Park Chan-wook (JSA, The Handmaiden) as the second instalment of his Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy blazed a trail at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival where it was lauded by the President of the Jury, director Quentin Tarantino. The film went on to become a huge international smash, blowing audiences’ minds with its concoction of filmmaking virtuosity, ingenious plotting, violence and pathos. Now, this masterpiece has been restored in 4K and is presented here with the feature-length documentary Old Days, and a massive array of extras.
Arrow Video presents Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy on 4K UHD Blu-ray, using the same 4K restoration they used on their previous Blu-ray edition. It has been encoded here at 2160p/24hz with Dolby Vision on a triple-layer disc, and is presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a UK release, but since the UHD format is free of region locks—or should!—the disc will play fine in North American UHD players. This edition does not include a 1080p high-definition version of the film.
I didn’t see Arrow’s previous Blu-ray edition so can’t say what improvements this presentation offers over that one, but I was pretty floored with the end results. What just struck me right off of the bat were the colours. I haven’t seen the film in a few years (I saw the film last on the Tartan DVD) and I guess I either forgot how colourful the otherwise dark film actually was, or the DVD just didn’t do all that much for them, but whatever the case they’re incredibly intense here. Greens, reds, and violets stick out, all saturated gorgeously with distinct shading and an impressive range. Even a flashback sequences, which has most of the colour sucked out of it, looks sharp. Black levels are rich and bold, dark scenes still delivering the finer shadow details, and brighter highlights never come off looking blown out.
Detail is also superb. A handful shots and sequences can have a slightly dupey look to them (I thought the extended fight sequence in the hall had a bit of a fuzzier look to it, for example) but most of the film is razor sharp and crisp, every texture, every line on a face, every smudge found on the walls of the room the film’s protagonist finds himself trapped in, all of it jumps off of the screen. There are handful of blemishes but nothing that really sticks out, just some small bits of dirt that pop up on occasion. Grain levels can vary, getting heavier or lighter from scene to scene, but it’s never noisy or blocky; it always looks natural, lending a great photographic look. The digital presentation itself is very clean, but there is some banding evident during the opening credits. This banding is more than likely inherent to the original computer graphics behind the credits, though, and I feel it has nothing to do with the encode; nothing else similar ever pops up.
Again, I can’t compare to the previous Arrow Blu-ray but the presentation here is just remarkable. It’s a dark, dirty looking film, but it’s so vivid and full of life here, even when there is this darker, green overlay to some of the scenes. The presentation does absolute wonders in delivering the film’s photography and it’s one of the more surprising 4K presentations I’ve come across yet.
Note: Due to technical difficulties, screen captures could only be taken from the first 90-minutes of the film.
Arrow includes three audio options: a Korean DTS-HD 2.0 stereo surround soundtrack and then two DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround tracks, one in Korean and one in English.
I ended up just going with the Korean 5.1 surround soundtrack; I sampled the English one and had to shut it off because it was just a “yikes!” from me when it came to the dubbing. I recall the surround presentation being very good on the original DVD edition and it translates superbly over to this presentation. Sound quality is superb, the film’s score really delivering in its mix (which spreads to all of the speakers) and range with crystal-clear details. Dialogue sounds clean and articulate, sticking primarily to the fronts, spreading when appropriate. Action also spreads out nicely, along with other sound effects, which can tie into camera moves and the like. Range is also very wide, with some great highs and lows, while the LFE booms away without drowning anything else out. Overall, a very effective presentation.
Arrow looks to be porting everything over from their previous 2-disc Blu-ray, spreading features over the UHD disc and a second standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc, with the second disc appearing to be the exact same disc found on their previous Blu-ray edition. As a note, I was only sent a check disc of the UHD disc, and as of this writing I have not received the second Blu-ray disc.
On the first disc, most of the material appears to be ported from editions released previous to Arrow’s own Blu-ray, going all the way back to the original DVD editions. Arrow carries over all three audio commentaries that appeared on the various special edition DVDs released throughout the world: a solo track featuring director Park Chan-wook, a second with Park and director of photography Jung Jung-hoon, and a third with Park and actors Choi Min-sik, Yu Ji-tae, and Kang Hye-jung, all three of which are presented in Korean with optional English subtitles. Though Park is present for all three tracks he works more as a moderator on the group tracks and is a more active participant in his solo track. In his track he’s more concerned in talking about the process in adapting the graphic novel to the screen, explaining the reasoning behind some of his choices, and then talking about his visual and editing choices, getting into some of the technical aspects of the production as well.
A lot of the technical details are saved for his commentary with Jung, though, the two getting more into the look of the film, explaining the lighting choices, the use of colour, with a few details behind some of the more complicated shots were done. I may have gotten the least out of the cast track, though oddly it ends up being the more fun of the three, as the cast members talk about their roles and recall stories around the production, sharing personal experiences.
Arrow does also include their own new commentary (recorded for the Blu-ray edition initially), featuring film critic Jasper Sharp and writer Simon Ward. The academic contribution, the two talk about the film, each from a slightly different perspective, Sharp around the film itself and the impact it had, Ward looking at it from the angle of an adaptation of the Manga novel, which he has written about. Ward does compare the film to the original novel throughout, pointing out what changes Park and company have made while also noting what has been kept the same, while also bringing up the history of its publication. Sharp ends up covering how the film more than likely became as big as it did (from Tarantino singing its praises to the rise of internet marketing at the time) and talks about it in relation to Park’s other films. The two do get into discussions about Park’s work and also how South Korean cinema changed in the late 90s after a lift of a ban on imported media. The two also have fun picking out references to other films, as flimsy as they may be (like possible references to Kiss Me Deadly).
Of the four tracks I ended up liking the solo Park one and the newer academic track the most. The others are fine but the more notable material found in those tracks also pop up in the numerous featurettes and interviews that have also been carried over to this edition. Six featurettes have been included starting of with a 24-minute one called Flashback, which focuses on the film’s two stars, Choi and Yoo. The two are asked questions about making the film and any difficulties they may have experienced, like Choi and the octopus scene (which was filmed 4 times). Cast and Crew Remembers is an 11-minute summarization (or sorts) on how the film got off the ground and evntually cast. There’s also a little about the film’s look. There is then 13-minutes’ around the film’s production design, from Choi’s hair style (which he was unsure of) to the design of the prison and the purple web-patterned objects that popped up throughout the film.
The disc also includes a 7-minute featurette around the film’s CGI effects, which are scattered throughout, some obvious (the ants, some of the edits) and some not (a knife in the back, colour correction during the flashback). One of the longer featurettes features Park and composer Cho Yeong-wok talking about the film’s score, going over each of the compositions that appear in the film, and what decisions played behind them (including why they user Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in one scene). There is then about 9-minutes worth of footage around the Cannes Film Festival, getting interviews around the experience mixed with footage from the event.
On top of these featurettes Arrow also carries over the same interviews found on the earlier DVD editions, all presented as separate features. The lengthiest one is a 22-minute one between Park and Mark Salisbury, which is done through an interpreter, meaning half of it involves the questions and answers being interpreted. Park answers questions around what draws him to the themes of revenge, the octopus scene, the ambiguity of the ending, and even the Hollywood remake (which would go through various iterations after this interview was conducted before being released in 2013). This is the better of the interviews as the rest are all very quick, though worth going through. The other interviews feature Park yet again (it’s actually a 7-minute clip from a Q&A session he did around a screening), the Manga’s author Tsuchiya Garon (2-minutes audio interview over the phone), and then actors Choi Min-sik (6-minutes), Yoo Ji-tae (4-minutes), Kang Hye-jung (4-minutes), Yoon Jin-seo (3-minutes), Chi Dae-han (3-minutes), Kim Byeong-ok (3-minutes), Oh Dae-su (3-minutes), Oh Kwang-rok (3-minutes), and Lee Seung-shin (3-minutes). There were a couple of surprises, like the fact one of the actors was wearing a fat suit for their role.
The film’s deleted scenes have also been carried over to this edition, presented with an optional commentary by Park. Running 24-minutes, the scenes are a mix of actual removed content (like a scene between Yoo’s character and the hypnotist, or the set-up shots for the prison) to alternate edits (the hall fight scene, a couple of sequences after a love scene), or just extended bits (like the opening police station scene). It’s easy to see why the material was removed and Park explains the reasons in the commentary—after briefly lamenting the idea of a director doing a commentary—and the reasons come down to the scenes either didn’t work, were too long, or were somehow repetitive.
Arrow does also include another new interview, this one with Asian film expert Tony Rayns. I’ve been watching a lot of his stuff the last couple of weeks and I’m starting to notice that outside of his shirts changing they all pretty much look the same. But he jams his contributions with all sorts of material, and yet again he covers a vast amount in this 35-minute interview, going over the rise of South Korean cinema in the late 90s and discussion around Park’s early education and films (with attention towards JSA) before getting into Oldboy and its place in the director’s Vengeance Trilogy. He then talks about Park’s films after the trilogy, the original Oldboy graphic, novel and then talks about a few key scenes in the film, like the infamous octopus scene (which he explains is based on an actual dish that he has tried and would not recommend). His contribution, on its own, ends up being a decent crash course on South Korean cinema and Park’s work.
The disc then closes with what is classified as music video (running less than 3-minutes), the original South Korean teaser and theatrical trailer, the international trailer (which is a bit more sensational than the Korean trailers), the Arrow re-release trailer, and a South Korean TV spot. There is also a fairly extensive image gallery presenting a collection of production photos and a handful of posters, all presented in 4K, too. The disc also features an isolated music and effects track, presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo.
The release also comes with a second disc, a standard Blu-ray, featuring a 2016 documentary on the making of the film along with about 210-minutes worth of video diary footage. I was not sent this disc so cannot currently comment on it. I was also not sent the booklet that will come with it. I am expecting a finished copy sometime in the next couple of weeks so will come back and update once I have gone through the rest of the material.
As it stands, though, it’s a decent enough set of features. The archival features are pretty standard for the time period they were made, though they do offer a great look into the film’s production, but I got quite a bit of value out of Arrow’s newer contributions that offer insights into the film’s impact and its importance.
Arrow’s newer features are solid additions and worth going through, but it’s the presentation of the film that makes this a must for fans. I never thought the film could look as wonderful as it does here.