Twenty Years Later, Park Chan-wook's 'Oldboy' Still Rips
See it in theaters if you can.
A quick entry today because this one is time sensitive.
Last night, I had a chance to see Park Chan-wook’s film Oldboy at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian Theater in Seattle (it’s playing in theaters around the country this weekend only). It’s a great movie that I’ve seen several times, but for years the only way I could watch it was via an old Tartan Asia Extreme Blu-Ray I purchased long ago. Recently, Neon acquired US distribution rights for Oldboy and is finally doing right by the title. Oldboy has received a full 4K remaster, a limited theatrical re-release, and it will be available via home video in the weeks to come.
Watching this film with an audience largely made up of many people who hadn’t seen it before was an electrifying experience. There’s a reason Oldboy is still so beloved and revered many years later: few films since have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in films, both technically and morally. Park’s film tells the story of Oh Dae-su, an average, unassuming, kinda-shitty businessman who’s suddenly kidnapped and locked up in a windowless prison for 15 years without any explanation. When he emerges, he’s refined his body into a killing machine and seeks only vengeance against the man who put him there.
Oldboy is the second entry of Park’s “Vengeance Trilogy” and it explores the concept to an extreme. What pushes a man to want to go to outrageous measures to exact vengeance? How can the idea of vengeance come to dominate one’s entire waking life? And what becomes of someone who has nothing else to live for? It’s a deeply upsetting film that may show you things you wish you hadn’t seen. But it remains compelling because it is so singular in its concept and execution (mediocre remakes notwithstanding).
I won’t say any more about the film’s plot since it contains many surprises and it’s now old enough that some of you may have a chance to experience it for the first time. But I do want to talk a bit about some notable elements of the Neon remastered version.
The biggest difference, which I haven’t seen many people mention, is the Neon version of Oldboy has an entirely new translation for the English subtitles. This new translation is, in my opinion, a revelation. It is a dramatic improvement over the previous translation that was included on the Tartan Blu-Ray or in the Arrow release. The language feels much more naturalistic; less like a stilted 1:1 translation and more poetic and lyrical. Honestly, it felt like watching an entirely new film. There were several key moments in the film that locked into place for me narratively in a way they never had before, and it was all because the subtitles were so much clearer this time around. Even if you’ve seen Oldboy before, you owe it to experience this version of it.
In terms of the visuals, I found the 4K version to be…fine? Overall the movie looks great — just as I remembered it — although a handful of shots show some evidence of significant processing. The visual effects have never been the strongest aspect of the movie for me and they are hit or miss in this version as well. In particular, there’s a few shots of CG that look pretty rough, which is something I’ve experienced in other older films that have effects that weren’t originally intended for a 4K release.
Finally, the theatrical release is followed by a 13-minute conversation between Nicholas Winding Refn and Park Chan-wook. While I don’t think it has any essential information, it’s a really fun and enjoyable chat and contains a bunch of insights about why and how Park chose to make the film. I definitely didn’t regret staying through it.
[Side note: I also loved the way the conversation was shot and formatted. Both Park and Refn are slightly illuminated against a black background. Refn asks questions in English and Park responds immediately in Korean with subtitles. It’s a nice treat that I’m guessing will be included in the home video release]
Neon’s Oldboy will be released on home video soon (the pre-order page is live already) but if you have a chance this weekend, go catch it in a theater. You will never forget it.
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Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
On Decoding TV, I’m experimenting with creating a new bonus episode series with. For our first episode, we welcomed to the podcast to discuss this recent article about MovieTok in The New York Times. Listen to our conversation here and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.
[PAID ONLY] On my personal Patreon, we did a livestreamed version of our Dave on Dave podcast this week! It was a blast and you can listen to the recording of it here.