1988: A loud, obnoxious
alcoholic with a history of appalling behaviour, Oh Daesu (SHIRIs
Choi Min-sik) finds himself confined without explanation in a small
room containing a bed, toilet, bath facilities, a desk, and a television.
The prisoners only human contact is with the unspeaking person
who brings him his food. He is periodically knocked out with gas,
and awakens to find that his hair has been cut and his "home"
cleaned. Daesu spends his waking hours watching endless TV, where
he sees that his captors have framed him for the murder of his wife.
Weeks pass, months pass, and years pass. Then, after 15 years in that
room, Daesu awakens and finds that he has been released. He is also
supplied with money and a cellphone, and receives a call from his
foe, who views the whole thing as a sort of sociological experiment.
Daesu soon finds a companion in female sushi chef Mido (Kang Hye-jeong),
who accompanies him on a most unusual odyssey to find this tormentor
(ATTACK THE GAS STATIONs Yu Ji-tae) and learn the reason why
he was put through this hell.
The mystery Daesu desperately labours
to resolve is nicely laid out, but still would have been easy to deduce
early on if director Park Chan-wook (JOINT
SECURITY AREA, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) had not presented the
material (based on the like-named Japanese manga of the same name
by Minegishi Nobuaki and Tsuchiya Garon) with such style and confidence.
The shifting emphasis (with Daesu gradually going from would-be avenger
to the one being toyed with), jet black humor (a hammer is Daesus
weapon of choice and, in one squirm inducing sequence, he uses it
to pry out a thugs front teeth), and strong performances also
help to get one deeply involved. At the forefront is Choi Min-sik,
whose characterization runs an emotional and physical gamut many actors
simply would not be up to handling. While Daesu initially seems one-note,
his remaining strands of humanity slowly rise to the surface and govern
his conduct in the closing scenes. Choi handles these moments exceptionally
well, and is also very persuasive when communicating Daesus
confusion and wonder in a world he can scarcely remember (lack of
interaction with his fellow human beings has left Daesu a virtual
alien, but all those endless years of watching television have also
made him extremely knowledgeable in some very arcane areas).
OLDBOY won the Grand Jury Prize at
Cannes, the sort of recognition that has been long overdue Asian cinema
at that festival. It is a powerful, challenging, and often disturbing
work that is, in its own way, as gruelling and merciless as a more
primal and far less polished picture like LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET.
No intestines are extracted and displayed for the camera here, but
OLDBOY so relentlessly pounds home its mantra of dishonor, humiliation,
and retribution, it seems like every single nerve has been slowly
peeled from the protagonists body by the final fade. The inevitable
(and inevitably diluted) Hollywood remake is due from Universal in
Starmaxs outstanding double
disc presentation lives up to the high standards South Korean distributors
have achieved and maintained over the past few years. Each DVD comes
in separate slim keepcases packaged in a textured outer sleeve. The
presentation looks first rate, with consistently good definition no
matter the lighting or color scheme. In an apparent effort to conserve
space, no Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been included, despite the promise
of such on the case. The 2.0 version is certainly adequate, but practically
monaural compared to the full bore and extremely dynamic DTS option.
English translation is generally quite good, but the subtitles do
not differentiate between speakers, which can be mildly confusing,
and sentences occasionally run together.
rest of the disc, alas, offers no such
amenities for unilingual viewers. A Making Of documentary features interviews
with the director and stars, a look at Kang Hye-jeongs audition,
the physical training Choi and Yu underwent, press
conference footage, Kang learning to be a sushi chef, location scouting,
a rehearsal, and additional behind-the-scenes views. A promotion section
features the teaser and theatrical trailer, a TV spot, and a music video.
Finally "Manual" provides Korean instructions on how to use
the menu. While the lack of English is disappointing, this is standard
with Korean DVDs and there is still much of interest here. A three disc
edition of OLDBOY with special collector packaging is reportedly on
the horizon, but the version under review is highly satisfactory and
will more than fit the bill for most consumers.
||Disc 2 (which is
labeled "Vicious Feedback") offers the entire, highly
effective soundtrack (10 cuts) in a very nicely designed section
called "Music Channel." In addition to the selection,
you can also choose between two different video montages to accompany
it. While this section and the menu prompts are entirely in English,
DVD is available at:
Images in this review courtesy
of Starmax. To read captions, hover mouse over image.
here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography
© John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.
- South Korean Release
- NTSC – Region 3 Only
- Starmax #SDVD-81
- Dolby Digital 2.0/DTS
- Sync Sound Korean Language
- Subtitles (Optional): English, Korean
- 24 Chapters
- 16:9 Enhanced
- (2.35:1) 120 Minutes)
Ratings & Consumer Information
- Australia: R 18+
- France: - 16
- Germany: 16
- Great Britain: 18
- Hong Kong: III
- Singapore: R21
- South Korea: 18
- Contains brutal violence, torture, sexual
content, nudity, and coarse language
FILM REVIEW RATINGS KEY:
- 10 A Masterpiece
- 9 Excellent
- 8 Highly Recommended
- 7 Very Good
- 6 Recommended
- 5 Marginal Recommendation
- 4 Not Recommended
- 3 Poor
- 2 Definitely Not Recommended
- 1 Dreadful