For their second Blu-ray release Tartan have chosen Korean director Park Chan-wook’s worldwide cult hit and award winner “Oldboy”. Whilst on one hand selecting such a popular title for a flagship release on the new format certainly makes sense, on the other since most of the intended audience will likely have already seen or indeed own the film, it does throw into sharp focus the question as to whether or not the much touted audio and visual upgrade makes it worth a double dip. Thankfully, the answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’, as the film really shines on the new technology, making good use of its capabilities and resulting in a great example of what Blu-ray can achieve.
For the few who have not seen the film, the plot (based on a manga by Garon Tsuchiya) follows Oh Dae-su (played by the excellent Choi Min-sik, who also featured in Park’s follow up “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance “) an average, if rather inconsiderate family man who is grabbed off the street and imprisoned in a room by unseen captors. Fifteen years later he is released, and sets out to discover the reason behind his incarceration and to take bloody revenge on his mysterious enemies. Hammer beatings and grotesque plot twists ensue.
Although devoid of epic vistas or spectacular action, “Oldboy” is actually a great choice for a Blu-ray release as it really shows the potential benefits that the new format offers in terms of enhanced picture quality. The film features visuals which are as immaculately designed and constructed as its labyrinth plot, and the improved clarity here really does justice to Park’s incredible attention to detail. Indeed, even those who have already seen the film several times will likely find themselves noticing something new that they would probably have missed on DVD, such as the complex patterns and textured colours which make up much of the set design. As well as looking better than ever, since Park packs almost every shot full of symbolism and meaning this also adds a certain extra depth to the film. Another benefit of the Blu-ray format is that it throws the faces of the cast into much sharper focus, underlining the humanity of the characters and pulling the viewer deeper into the film, something which is particularly important here when so much relies upon empathising with a brutal, tortured protagonist and where most emotions are deliberately left ambiguous. The improved sound quality is also obvious, and this too goes some way in really bringing the film to life and in helping to further immerse the viewer in the taught drama.
The deal has been sweetened with some fairly comprehensive extras, including no less than three different commentary tracks, and a set of deleted scenes which also come with optional commentary. However, informative and worthwhile though these bonus materials may be, especially Park’s own commentary itself, which offers a great deal of insight into not only the making of but also the meaning of the film, they are essentially the same as those featured on the original DVD release, and so it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.
Still, the main selling point here is the Blu-ray quality, and on that score, “Oldboy” is definitely a worthwhile purchase, either for newcomers or fans. The improvement in picture and sound quality is significant, and as such this is really is the best edition available of the film and it’s obvious that a lot of effort has gone into making the best use of the new format’s potential. Again, it’s great to see cult films such as this making it out on Blu-ray, giving those fond of less mainstream cinema more of an incentive to invest in the technology, and for this Tartan certainly deserve a lot of credit.
Chan-wook Park (director)
CAST: Min-sik Choi … Dae-su Oh
Ji-tae Yu … Woo-jin Lee
Hye-jeong Kang … Mi-do
Dae-han Ji … No Joo-hwan
Dal-su Oh … Park Cheol-woong
Byeong-ok Kim … Mr. Han
Seung-Shin Lee … Yoo Hyung-ja