So, with two highly regarded films already behind him, director Park Chan-wook sets out to dazzle audiences with his latest piece Old Boy. Sharing some thematic moments with his previous efforts Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Park sets out to add more gloss to his latest cinematic treat about revenge.
Already the film has received several accolades and has gone on to give Park a bigger name, and deservedly so, for despite its flaws Old Boy is an entertaining film that almost lives up to its hype.
Based upon Garon Tsuchiya's manga the story follows the plight of a businessman named Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-shik). One night out, after a heavy drinking session Dae-su is detained at the local police station for disorderly behaviour. After his friend bails him out and calls Dae-su's wife at a public telephone box he notices that Dae-su has disappeared, leaving behind only the present that he bought for his young daughter's birthday. Dae-su wakes up in a prison, run by local gangsters who kidnap people for money but he has no idea as to why he has been incarcerated. As the years pass, Dae-su keeps a record by leaving tattoos on his hand and uses his time to educate and physically better himself with one intent in mind - revenge. 15 years later he is released and put back onto the street where he must solve the mystery behind his own kidnapping, with the help of a sushi chef named Mido (Kang Hye-jeong)
Old Boy has gained itself quite a reputation over the months and its easy to see why given that it stars two of South Korea's hottest properties - Choi Min-shik and Yoo Ji-tae and is directed by the ever popular Park Chan-wook, determined to better his last harrowing tale of bloody revenge. So naturally I was also geared up to witness what has been described as a modern masterpiece of cinema.
Unfortunately Old Boy didn't deliver everything I had hoped for because what starts off well soon becomes forceful to the point that you've figured out the big twist, with a good 30-minutes left to drag out the proceedings. The film leaves behind too many clues to easily pick up on and ultimately ends on an anti-climax where it should have delivered a real shock to the system. Park Chan-wook has over excelled himself with his latest offering, it is a film that runs for far too long and in the end lacks the sting that Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance had. Though visually striking it is less hard hitting and doesn't deliver any real emotional core, leaving this viewer detached for its 2 hour run time, unlike Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance that offered some truly gut wrenching moments.
The film also over exerts itself by concentrating on too many silly, incidental moments such as a prolonged fight held in the prison corridor or dragged out expositions, along with insignificant moments that include the overuse of certain scene transitions - in fact the film just tries too hard.
With my concerns out of the way I can still honestly say that Old Boy does have a lot going for it. Visually it is a marvel, every bit as gritty as Park's previous offerings and features some obviously inspired camera techniques that do well to broaden the film's overall aesthetic, along with some surreal moments. Curiously though it is a lot sparser on the violence that I'd come to expect - it does offer a couple of unsettling moments but nothing on the scale that Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance delivered. With said film Park had already made what in my opinion is his finest tale of revenge (now of a total three) and for what it lacked in box office returns Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance made up for by staying in the mind a lot longer than Old Boy and its final denouement.
With his star players, Park has the luxury of box office earners and they milk every scene they're in for all its worth. You certainly get your moneys worth out of the always excellent Choi Min-shik and (in a very good turn) Yoo Ji-tae who has started to mature greatly and offers his finest performance to date. Overall the entire cast deserves to be praised, despite slightly going over the top at times but I'm afraid that good performances are not always enough. Old Boy could have been sublime but it exhausts itself too early.
The ever reliable, Starmax Entertainment has released the film as a 2-disc special edition that comes housed in an attractive slipcase. For those Limited Edition junkies you might want to hold off for the upcoming 3-disc Ultimate Edition, housed in a unique copper case. You can expect to pay $100 for it so personally I'll pass as this current edition is more than adequate.
Here’s a link to it though, for the curious ones amongst you:
OldBoy: Ultimate Edition
Isn't it pretty?
Presented in Anamorphic Wide screen 2:35.1 the film looks very good. There is a noticeable amount of softness in the background for many scenes but overall the detail is good and colours are well handled for a film this dark.
Notable for its lack of a Dolby 5.1 option, the DVD offers Dolby 2.0 Surround and DTS surround tracks. For my primary viewing session I chose to take Old Boy through its paces with the DTS offering. Certainly lively with decent use of the surrounds I often found the mix to be lacking in places where it needed something extra, and inappropriately overbearing in others that don’t. Still, it is very clear from all sides and is a good addition
There are optional English subtitles that read very well showing little in the way of grammatical errors. The most noticeable glitch is the lack of full stops at the end of each sentence, often resulting in the viewer having to pick up on the conversation much quicker than usual. Curiously this is often the case for many Korean DVDs.
It will come as no shock whatsoever to learn that the extras have no subtitles, though menus are in English for the most part. With that said here's a rundown of Disc 2 “Vicious Feedback“:
Split into three segments, the viewer is given a choice to listen to Jo Yeong-wook's excellent score from the film with accompanying video footage.
01. Look who's Talking
02. Jailhouse Rock
03. The Old Boy
04. Out of the Past
05. Room At the Top
06. Cries and Whispers
07. Dressed to Kill
08. The Searchers
09. The Last Waltz
10. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Selecting "Making of Documentary Part.1" will take you to a screen where you can view Audition, Characterizing, Hunting, Reading and Crank In. These offer various behind the scenes segments, with interviews from the cast and crew.
"Get Together Promotion" includes a trailer, teaser trailer, TV spot and a music video.
Instructions on how to use the menu screen - in Korean.
Old Boy is certainly an entertaining film that offers plenty in the way of style and fine performances all round, but in the end its inherent flaws prevent it from being an instant classic.
Last updated: 15/06/2018 14:40:08