Hardcore vengeance ensues.
There’s a lot of talent arising from Korea right now, but Chan Wook Park stands a hundred feet above the rest. He does so much in these two hours that it honestly takes multiple viewings to really appreciate the craftsmanship. The first time through you’re sucked in by the story and the atmosphere, but after that you begin to pay attention to his skillful use of things like color scheme, shot composition, music and the passage of time. The movie is also very stylish, but that style serves the story. The visuals are confident but never showy just for the sake of it. The hallway fight is a fantastic example of the marriage of this tone, cinematography and panache. Aside from being exhilarating on a purely visual and technical level (done in one continuous shot in an amazing set piece), the sequence works symbolically as well (listen to Park’s commentary for more on that).
I’m pretty confident that if OLDBOY had gotten a bigger release in America, Min Sik Choi would’ve gotten a much deserved Oscar nomination for his work as Oh Dae Su. There are scenes that are hard to watch and I’m not talking about the violence. While his physical transformation is impressive enough, there are parts of the movie where Choi straight up bares his soul in front of the camera, simultaneously displaying pent up rage, sadness and vulnerability (not to mention coolness and all-around badassery). His performance at the film’s climax is what completely sells the movie and makes the mystery pay off in spades. The supporting actors do fine work as well, but it’s Choi who will leave you mesmerized by the end credits.
It’s as violent and beautiful as the best Hong Kong action movies. It’s disturbing yet haunting in a dramatic, Kafka-esque way. As a former English major who was a big fan of the Bard, I don’t throw this comparison around very much…but OLDBOY is a tragic tale of revenge and romance that I think even Shakespeare himself would have loved.
Commentary by director Chan-Wook Park: When he cited old Renaissance paintings by Velasquez as his inspiration for the hallway fight, I was sold. This commentary is a really nice addition to help one’s grasp of the movie. Park talks (well, in subtitles) about the film’s symbolism and themes, points out some things you may not have noticed, and addresses some of the more ambiguous points (especially the end). I definitely recommend this if you liked the film.
Commentary by the director and cinematographer: Park’s solo commentary focused more on delving in to the film’s meaning and implications, and this track concentrates more on the filming process. They pretty much go scene by scene, explaining some of the techniques and difficulties they had. For a film with such visual style, this was fun to listen to, especially if you have aspirations of being a filmmaker yourself.
Commentary by director and cast: All three of the major actors are present along with Park. To be honest, given the film’s subject matter I was expecting a very serious commentary about the filming of such a heavy handed story. Instead, within the first five minutes they’re discussing how much Choi farted in his prison room and how it smelled “sweet.” The lightness between the group made for a fun listen and an unexpected surprise. On the film’s sex scene: “It was just like filming an action sequence.” “Then we should’ve had 20 people in there!”
Behind the Scenes featurettes:
- Making The Film (10:56): This one provides an overview of the overall production, from how the movie began and how Park changed the story from the original manga ,to casting, colors and cinematography. On a lot of other DVDs, this featurette would be the big behind-the-scenes piece, but just wait. We’re just getting started.
- Production Design (13:12): Covers all the visual planning for the movie— overall visual style, artwork, costumes, and most importantly…Oh Dae Su’s hair. (Halloween costume idea anyone?) Most interesting was the use of repeating patterns throughout the move. Next time you watch, pay attention to the choice of wallpaper in each scene.
- Music Score (16:48): Park helped co-write the score and he and the composer take you through each track as it’s used in the movie, just to demonstrate how unique the reasoning behind each choice was. The repetition of the waltz really stood out here, giving the scenes a dream-like feel. Park also titled each track of the score after classic movie titles, which is just plain cool.
- CGI (7:05): Like the Music featurette, this one takes you step by step through each major instance where the film was enhanced digitally, ranging from fully CG ants, a knife in the back and color correction for flashbacks. The knife effect is so realistic action director Tsui Hark had to ask Park how they did it.
- Flashback (23:35): Schmoes rejoice! The Internet finally gets some love! Like a making of documentary in itself, this feature sees the cast and crew take questions from the OLDBOY online fan club, as well as from each other. Lots of behind the scenes footage is used to flesh out their answers, along with some great stories—best of which is how Choi ate that live octopus.
Cast and Crew Interviews (41:13): A veritable assload of interviews from pretty much each cast member and a lot of the crew. Again, these are interspersed with behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage.
Deleted Scenes (24:54): A fair number of cut scenes and a couple alternate takes. There’s more from the police station opening, Oh Dae Su’s first day in captivity, and some alternate takes of the hallway fight. I’m glad they decided to use the continuous take on it’s own. It’s pretty spectacular.
Le Grand Prix at Cannes (8:50): This follows the cast and crew to the French film festival, where the movie ultimately took the Jury’s Grand Prize.
The Autobiography of OLDBOY (3:29:21): Possibly the greatest special feature on any DVD I’ve seen yet. Autobiography is a perfect title: what you have here is a 3.5 hour video diary covering every single day of the 69 day shoot. You can literally watch the film take shape as each day passes, see the cast and crew grow more comfortable with each other, and see the toll the brutal schedule takes on everyone. No stupid PR stuff, no BS; just straight footage from the set. If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of a film shoot, this is it. The most amazing thing to me is how funny and lighthearted Choi is on set, and then as soon as they say “Action” (which Park actually says in English) he’s deadly serious and in character, a completely different person.
A few Previews are included as well, including Chan Wook Park’s SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and LADY VENGEANCE.
We’re not done yet! The DVD also includes an original 35 mm film cell from the movie, as well as the first volume of the graphic novel from which OLDBOY is based. The whole thing comes in a groovy tin case with some great artwork and design. This one’s definitely taking a high spot on my shelf.
And to the idiots who want to remake OLDBOY for Hollywood: Don’t. It’s a near-perfect tale of loss, love and vengeance. It’s Shakespeare put on by John Woo with creative consultants Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino. If you think you can top that, then you are sadly mistaken. Touch this with a 60 foot pole I will come after you with a hammer Oh Dae Su style.
Extra Tidbit: It took 3 days and 17 takes to nail the hallway fight sequence. It was originally going to be done with regular cuts, but Min Sik Choi suggested the single-take approach. I bet by that third day he was regretting that suggestion.