Vengeance Trilogy: OldBoy DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Palisades Tartan

Even though I'm not better than a beast, don't I have the right to live? – Dae-su

Directed by Park Chan-wook
Screenplay by Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Joon-hyung and Park Chan-wook
Original Story by Tsuchiya Garon and Minegishi Nobuaki
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 120 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on March 16th, 2010

Choi Min-shik as Oh Dae-su
Yoo Ji-tae as Lee Woo-jin
Gang Hye-jung as Mi-do
Kim Byeong-ok as Mr. Han



15 years. That is the amount of time Dae-su (Choi Min-shik – Crying Fist) has been imprisoned in an apartment. A decade and a half. And he has no idea why. When he is finally released, he makes it his mission to find out who took away 15 years of his life, and why.

For those that have seen it, I'm aware of how incredibly over-simplified that synopsis is for OldBoy, Park Chan-wook's follow-up to the despair-filled Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Yet, let's face it, at its very core that is exactly what the movie is about: A man seeking vengeance on the mysterious person who held him captive — free from needless things such as human contact — for well over a decade. However, with Park Chan-wook behind the lens, you know things aren't going to end up so cut and dry…or with a happy ending.

Like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy is as depressing as it is compelling. The movie has a pretty big task of keeping Dae-su's incarceration a mystery to keep the viewer glued, and does a wonderful job at succeeding at it. Dae-su roams the streets of Korea methodically picking up clues that will lead him to the main player. Yet the question becomes is he really finding the clues himself, or is he being led somewhere? Either way, it's a most violent journey.



The action in OldBoy is absolutely brutal. One of its most famous scenes, and rightfully so, is one in which Dae-su takes on a slew of his prior captors, armed with nothing but a hammer. It's one continuous shot that is both breathtaking and cringe-worthy as he plows through the punks, taking as much as he's giving. The beauty of the scene is how it manages to be so appalling and alluring while remaining completely indicative of the film's tone.

In his quest to gain closure, Dae-su enlists the help of both old friends and one new one, Mi-do (Gang Hye-jung – Three... Extremes). Having met Mi-do on the first night of his release (a well-loved scene from the movie where Dae-su eats a live squid), the two formed a fast May-December relationship and she eagerly helps him on his mission. The problem is Dae-su's world is so completely upside down, he can never really trust her because after being locked down for so long, he doesn't know who he can trust.

Choi and Gang play extremely well off each other in their volatile relationship. Gang nails the hopelessly trustworthy doe-eyed girl with a believable naiveté. Choi's Dae-su is night to Mi-do's day. His paranoia is on par with Howard Hughes, but the irony is Dae-su has reason to be paranoid. Theirs is a dysfunctional relationship at its finest, and the two actors make it a credible one.



Yoo Ji-tae (Attack the Gas Station!) has arguably a harder job. As the antagonist Woo-jin, his character is both strong and weak, and it's no small feat to be able to handle an almost dual personality as well as Yoo does. In some scenes, his character just radiates cool in both style and actions while in others he displays the weakness and insecurity of a child. His obsession with Dae-su is extreme, and it only adds to the mystery of why Dae-su has no idea who would have such a fixation on him.

Although he played a minor role as Woo-jin's bodyguard, Mr. Han, Kim Byeong-ok deserves a mention. He has very few lines, but holy hell does he just radiate bad-ass whenever he is on screen. While fans of the film will bring up the hammer scene more often than not, I enjoyed the showdown between Dai-su and Mr. Han just as much.

It's the character's motives that really elevate OldBoy to something above a simple revenge movie. They all have skeletons in their closet, whether they realize it or not, and at the end, when that closet is cleaned out, jaws will drop.

And that's where OldBoy is at its most powerful — its shocking reveal. For the entire movie we follow Dae-su on his journey to get answers, and when that information is finally provided, you suddenly realize that maybe you didn't want those answers after all. The reasons behind Dae-su's imprisonment seem completely unfair to the viewer, but put in the shoes of Woo-jin, they are almost understandable. However, Woo-jin wasn't satisfied with just taking away over a decade of Dae-su's life, he cranked his revenge to 11 and did something unforgivable. If Dae-su had really deserved such treatment, it would have been the best revenge ever, yet this is an over-the-top punishment.

However, as unjust Woo-jin is, the movie would not have worked any other way because it is true to his character. As collected as he seems on the exterior, he is completely delusional and a softer ending would have weakened everything Dae-su went through.

I would have wished for less exposition from Woo-jin to Dae-su towards the end of the film, but everything that led up to that point — and the final decision Dae-su makes at the very end — overshadows that quibble. OldBoy is an amazing journey into madness from two points of view. It is well-deserving of the accolades it gets because it is that damn good.


Video and Audio:

The 2:35: 1 anamorphic presentation is exceptional. There is a variety of color throughout the film, at times jumping off the screen and at others being depressingly mute (intentionally) and it all looks wonderful.

Its Korean 6.1 DTS-ES track is as impressive as the video. There is a solid use of ambient noise from the surrounds, dialogue is always crisp and clear and there are no noticeable audio defects.

Korean Dolby Digital 5.1, English (Dub) 5.1 and English and Spanish (feature only) subtitles are also offered.


Special Features:

Disc 1:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Park Chan-wook
  • Audio Commentary with Director and Cinematographer
  • Audio Commentary with director and Cast

Disc 2:

  • 5 Behind The Scenes Documentaries
    • Making The Film – The Cast Remembers
    • Production Design
    • The Music Score
    • CGI Documentary
    • Flashback
  • Cast & Crew Interviews
  • 10 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
  • Featurette: "Le Grand Prix at Cannes"
  • Trailer

Disc 3:

  • "The Autobiography of OldBoy" – A 3 hour video diary

Palisades Tartan has gone balls out with the features on this fantastic film.

Of the three commentaries, the winner for me was the one with just Park Chan-wook. Unlike the somewhat disappointing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance commentary, Park goes into a lot of detail with the film, keeping it moving and informative.

The second commentary with both Park and his cinematographer, Chung Chung-hoon is very technical, as Chung talks about such things as how various scenes were shot and what kind of lenses and color choices were used, and why.

The final commentary puts Park in a room with actors Choi Min-shik, Yoo Ji-tae and Gang Hye-jung, and they reminisce about the film. It's light-hearted and enjoyable. The downside is, because of the language barrier, it sometimes gets confusing on who is actually speaking (except when it's Gang Hye-jung, as she's the only female). The commentary tracks are subtitle and it would have been nice if there was an ID precluding whoever was speaking.


The five behind-the-scenes featurettes on disc two ("Making the Film – The Cast Remembers", "Production Design", "The Music Score", "CGI Documentary" and "Flashback") can be played individually or as one long piece which has a total running time of just under an hour and 12 minutes. Each featurette is enjoyable, and each is worth a watch. Having really liked the soundtrack of OldBoy, I found I liked "The Music Score" the best, where the music choices are discussed in depth.

The "Cast & Crew Interviews" runs 41 minutes in its entirety (using the play all feature) and there are a total of 11 people interviewed. Rather than being a "OMG THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME" type of piece that is so typically found on bonus features, it is informative and entertaining. The subjects discuss a broad range of topics from how they were chosen for the film to why acupuncture had to be used on set. Each interview can be played individually, as well.


"Le Grand Prix at Cannes" is a featurette surrounding OldBoy's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and the reaction to it being the surprise hit.

10 deleted scenes (with optional director commentary) and a trailer round out disc two.

Disc three, "The Autobiography of OldBoy", is an amazing three-and-a-half hour video diary of true behind-the-scenes footage. Virtually narration free, this beast of a documentary follows the five months of OldBoy's filming, as if you were a fly on the wall. There are onset interviews intermixed with various candid conversations between cast and crew. Fans of the film will eat this up, and as good as disc two is, disc three really shines.



Movie: 4.5 Stars
Video: 4.5 Stars
Audio: 4.5 Stars
Overall: 4.5 Stars

Click here or the "3" below for the Lady Vengeance review.

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