Issue #237a          HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES         November 8th, 2004

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(2003; Show East/Egg Films)

Choi Min-sik Choi Min-sik Kang Hye-jeong

RATING: 9/10


1988: A loud, obnoxious alcoholic with a history of appalling behaviour, Oh Daesu (SHIRI’s Choi Min-sik) finds himself confined without explanation in a small room containing a bed, toilet, bath facilities, a desk, and a television. The prisoner’s 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 STATION’s Yu Ji-tae) and learn the reason why he was put through this hell.

Choi Min-sik Choi Min-sik (left), Kang Hye-jeong Yu Ji-tae (foreground)

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 Daesu’s weapon of choice and, in one squirm inducing sequence, he uses it to pry out a thug’s 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 Daesu’s 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 protagonist’s body by the final fade. The inevitable (and inevitably diluted) Hollywood remake is due from Universal in 2006.


Starmax’s 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.

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, the
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-jeong’s 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.

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Starmax. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • 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


  • 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