Oldboy(Tartan Video, 8.23.2005)
Two years ago, I watched a film that floored me, drained me. It was considered a failure, a polarizing experience for anyone who watched it. But five minutes into Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, I knew I was witnessing a masterpiece and that its director, Park Chanwook, is one of the greater talents working in the medium today. Such was not the case with Oldboy. Halfway through, I was fully engaged and entertained, but the power that permeated Mr. Vengeance appeared to be more generic this time. It was strong genre filmmaking, but art? I was a little disappointed. Sure, the film was intriguing and darkly funny but, still, I felt it was a bit of a step back for Park Chanwook and I longed for the almost Kubrickian touches I found in Mr. Vengeance.
But I soon learned this film is a different beast and all my second-guessing and disappointment diminished with the film's final half hour. Oldboy, I later learned, is just as powerful as Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. The difference here is that the power sneaks up on you. It's like a snake slowly crawling up your leg and you don't know it until it's fangs are entrenched in your nuts.
Oldboy has the ultimate mind-bending final act. No film released this year can match it. This story is more brutal and complicated than you may initially give it credit for. Now, much has been made of the violence of the picture, and violent it is. But the physical violence isn't the only thing that will make you squirm. It's the emotional violence that cuts through you worse than anything...and that's really saying something in a film where a man cuts out his own tongue.
So what's it all about? Oldboy is the story of a Oh Dae-Su, a man mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years. While in prison, his wife is murdered and his daughter adopted away in Sweden. He has become the prime suspect in his wife's slaying. He gets out and he wants to find who imprisoned him and why. The who and the why, well...there lies the film's secret. But it doesn't really end there. There is another question to be asked: why was he set free?
This Tartan Asia Extreme DVD isn't mind-blowing, but it's fairly stacked for a one-disc release. We get a feature-length commentary by Park Chanwook and cinematographer Chung-Chung-Hoon and those who don't care for commentaries strictly from a technical standpoint may find this one a tad dull. Deleted and extended scenes are also available with optional director's commentary. Some of the deleted scenes are pretty interesting, specifically those involving Yoo Ji-Tae's character but, on the whole, these scenes contain nothing that will be sorely missed. Park's commentary for these scenes nicely sums up the reasons for the cuts and why they were shot in the first place.
The highlight of the disc is a Japanese film student Q&A with Park Chanwook where he offers some real insight into his thoughts on the writing process and how he feels over the supposed failure of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. It lasts a mere seven minutes but is probably the most interesting feature the disc has to offer. Extra goodies such as the trailer, a photo gallery, and the winner of the Oldboy Fan Trailer Contest -- hosted by Tartan Films and iFilm -- are also available.
There is talk of a remake directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) and starring Nicolas Cage. Cage would be a decent choice for a remake (Russel Crowe would be even better), but why remake it? There is no way in hell an American studio would green-light this story. It's way too brutal and dark. And who needs a diluted version of this masterpiece? Choi Min-Sik and Yoo Ji-Tae are already equally unforgettable and Gang Hye-Jung is a true beauty of real talent. Oldboy is a modern tragedy of the highest order and Park manages to make this strange, violent and almost obscenely dark tale one of the best entertainments of the year. -- Andre Rivas