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Oldboy (2003)
Director: Park Chan-wook

review by Peter Schilling

It's a Kafkaesque mystery with electrifying revelations. It's a ferociously violent revenge thriller. Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped and held in captivity, without reason, for 15 years. He's gassed and hypnotised, framed for murder, and eventually released (just as he's about to escape) by the wealthy Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Jai-tae), who hides a dark family secret. His ruthless tormentor relentlessly goads the bewildered and almost permanently dazed protagonist Dae-su, and gives him only five days to discover the true motive for his incarceration.

As if by chance, Dae-su meets and promptly falls in love with sushi-bar cook Mido (Gang Hye-jung), and she becomes his nurse after he's wounded in a gang fight. As Dae-su conducts his inquiries, teeth are extracted with a claw hammer, and there are numerous scenes of operatic melodrama in the style patented by Brian De Palma. But moments of quixotic humour belie admirably thuggish rumbles, and the general effrontery of suicidal incidents and weirdness of everyday settings and locations, are strikingly depicted as either frightful squalor or otherworldly glamour. Nightmarish hallucinations of menacing or simply uncanny insects affect both of the main characters.

We learn from flashbacks that the tragic death of a schoolgirl is behind all these odd machinations. Although the main character is a human monster capable of astonishing brutality and unstoppable rage, he's selfless enough that we are bound to care about his plight and gladly welcome his quest for redemption, even when, amazingly, he becomes a seemingly righteous breaker of sexual taboos. Compared to another, strictly Hollywood, drama of vengeance, The Punisher, this Korean picture is unpredictably inventive in both imaginative plot dynamics and visual élan, and effortlessly surpasses any such thoroughly westernised counterparts.

The Region '0' DVD release from Tartan Asia Extreme is a fantastic two-disc package... The first disc presents Oldboy in widescreen format (aspect ratio 2.35:1) in Korean with reportedly re-mastered English subtitles. Audio content has options for Dolby digital 2.0 stereo; surround 5.1 and DTS-ES 6.1 plus three accessible commentary tracks. There's also the original theatrical trailer. The special features disc includes 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary, an exclusive interview (by Mark Salibury) with director Park Chan-wook, a wholly comprehensive set of five behind-the-scenes documentaries that cover standard 'making-of' fare, plus cast reminiscences, production design, music score, the CGI effects work, and a flashback sequence. Rounded off with some cast and crew interviews, this is an outstanding and highly collectable DVD, complemented by a four-page insert containing film notes by Chris Sullivan.
Oldboy

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