Oldboy has now gotten a big re-release by Arrow, including a theatrical re-release, and various Blu-Ray releases. There’s a two-disc version that only includes Oldboy, but also a version that includes Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. Both of those have been dubbed as “The Vengeance Trilogy”—though not by director Park Chan-wook really, as they are not narratively connected.
Much has been said about Oldboy before, as it’s one of the top cult films of this century. It’s basically a neo-noir based on a Japanese manga series. It’s a relatively straightforward noir vengeance plot but with plenty of twists and turns. Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is the lead character, a businessman who is arrested for pubic drunkenness, then kidnapped after his release. He finds himself in a sealed hotel room. Through the TV in the room, he learns that his wife has been murdered, and he is the prime suspect. He ends up being in the hotel room for 15 years, during which he plots his revenge on whomever has put him in this prison.
After getting away from the room, he meets a young woman and starts a relationship with her. Not to spoil too much, but as you might imagine, he does discover why all of this happens, and gets some revenge on some of those responsible. The link with the Oedipus myth is pretty obvious as the story unfolds.
It’s undoubtedly a well-made film. But although it has a well-constructed plot with some very good twists, the problem is the script. It might just be the way it’s translated, maybe the dialogue is better in Korean. But the dialogue is almost all exposition, which is just not good film writing, although that could also be related to its comic-book basis.
However, it’s beautifully filmed by cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The compositions are at times really beautiful. There’s a one-take fight sequence in a corridor involving a hammer that’s probably the most iconic section, outside of the scene in which an octopus is eaten alive, which was not CGI, despite what they claimed to the BBFC at the time… The BBFC have a hard line on animal cruelty—even horse falls in some old Westerns are being cut out of movies for the UK market. When Oldboy first came out, the director hoodwinked them, but as invertebrates octopi are actually not protected under the Animal Welfare Act in the UK, so he gets away with it even now.
Obviously, it’s a very good film and one of the best calling cards that an Asian filmmaker has ever presented to get work overseas. Park Chan-wook has continued to make wild movies in South Korea, and has since worked extensively in the US and UK, and that wide and varied career is no surprise. The Tartan Asia Extreme label deserves credit brought a lot of movies like Oldboy, and their makers, to a wider audience. It’s however not quite the masterpiece that it has at times been made out to be, but Oldboy is pretty solid.
There are a lot of special features on the two-disc set, including interviews, documentaries, a video appreciation and various commentaries. The second disc includes over five hours of new feature-length documentaries on the film. If you buy the box set, there are similar extras included for both additional films, so if you are a fan that’s definitely the one to get. There are three different versions: the two-disc version with Oldboy only, which is currently the most widely available; a limited edition that includes posters and a booklet, and which may already be sold out but might be found in HMV or Fopp; and an upcoming (9 December) with the two extra films and loads of extras, but not the book and posters.