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June 9, 2009

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DVD of the Week – Disc Commentary Track for Oldboy (2003)

by NIR SHALEV

The premise is simple: while in a drunken rage Oh Dae-su is kidnapped from the streets of Seoul and thrown into a room to be imprisoned without knowing why or by whom, or for how long.  After 15 years he is suddenly released back into the world with a fresh suit and shades, a cell phone and revenge on his mind; he wants to find the perpetrator and kill him.  But the mastermind behind it all is wondering whether Oh Dae-su actually cares as to why he had him imprisoned.  So begins a classic tale of revenge that received a five minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2003.

The DVD release for Oldboy contains three commentary tracks: the first by director Park Chan-wook, the second by Park and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, and the third by Park and the main cast.  I chose to listen to the second one because I am a cinephile who is interested in all aspects to do with film and that includes its technical construction.

The director and DOP (director of photography) assume that the audience has already watched the film before so they do not keep any secrets about the plot development throughout the commentary.  They talk a lot about the color scheme, the contrasting red and green.  They mention the purple that is inserted every once in a while and its relationship to the third act.  But most entertaining is that they mostly talk about the lighting in each scene.  Not only do they mention how they lit the scenes but what the lighting signifies and what lights were used.  They mention names like Kino Flow and HMI Lights and seeing that I have graduated from film school I know what those lights are.  Hearing them mentioned in a commentary track is rare and I was pleasantly surprised to hear such enthusiasts speaking so freely about their craft.

Everything is covered in this commentary: whether the actor playing Oh Dae-su really ate a live octopus at the sushi restaurant, what locations the film was shot at and how many locations actually make up one scene, and also what the actors are like in real life so that seeing them on screen we can better appreciate the range in their performances.


This review is for the 3-Disc Ultimate Edition that comes in a large tin box.  It also contains the first issue of the manga that Oldboy is based on and a film strip from the film. The film is also available in a single-disc edition on DVD and Blu-ray.

New releases this week: Fired Up, Gran Torino, The International, Nobel Son


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Jun 9 2009

    I assume the commentary is in Korean with English subtitles? How does that work with watching the film subtitled ‘beneath’ the commentary?

  2. Nir Shalev
    Jun 11 2009

    Having seen the film, at least, three times I know every part. I even remember specific lines of dialogue. But the commentary is mostly for the visual style and the actors’ performances/characters.

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