Blu Reviewed: Oldboy (Limited Edition Remaster)

By now, you’ve probably seen or heard of Park Chanwook’s galvanizing and transcendent action thriller masterpiece Oldboy, arguably the greatest emotional breakthrough in film of the new millennia.  Released in 2003, the second installment of writer-director Park Chanwook’s loose Vengeance Trilogy was for a short time the most successful South Korean film ever made and garnered the auteur worldwide attention as a formidable master to be reckoned with.  It is also among the most double-dipped home video titles of all time, beginning with the much maligned director-approved Starmax DVD released in 2003 before enough fans complained about the grainy and filmic looking image with the studio re-releasing a digitally remastered Ultimate Edition version without the director’s approval or participation. 

Eventually acquired for international theatrical distribution by Tartan Films who released their own DVD, Ultimate Edition and eventual blu-ray edition both as a standalone release and as part of the Vengeance Trilogy boxed set, Oldboy became available in a number of home video releases but only one involved the director, until now.  Around the time Chanwook began working on his newest film The Handmaiden, South Korean home video company Plain Archive connected with Chanwook and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung before beginning work on what would become the first official blu-ray edition of the film in South Korea to commemorate the film’s tenth anniversary. 

Meticulously restored with color correction, improved contrast and brightness levels, minor fixes to print damage, Park Chanwook was quoted saying it is ‘the best available version of the film that I can show you today’.  Cited as the most expensive home video release for a single film released in that country, this new restored version now looks closer to the original theatrical presentation than ever before, carrying over many of the filmic qualities of the Starmax DVD such as print damage and intensely heavy film grain.

Green tinting which was present on the Starmax but removed for the Ultimate Edition has been restored as well and also present are little dark flashes at the bottom of the screen germane to cutting on film, making the image look even more like a film-to-tape transfer than previously.  Equally strong is the DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix, something of a step down from the 7.1 mix included on the Tartan Asia Extreme edition but closer to the film’s theatrical roots, but most of the focus on this edition will be on the restored image.

Also included in this marvelous remastered edition is a photobook, an essay book including both Korean and English translated versions of the director statement, retrospective essays and on-set photographs.  Housing three blu-ray discs, we get two discs devoted entirely to extras including a newly created documentary entitled Old Days which was produced just around the time The Handmaiden was coming out.  The total runtime of all the extras included exceeds the nine-hour mark.  Several editions with different cover art and additional extras including a foldout poster, movie cards and character postcards are included with the most expensive edition being the now out of print Memorial Box. 

Related articles:

Sadly, as with Twilight Time, Arrow Video, Synapse and Zavvi, Plain Archive uses the limited edition releasing model with specific editions of Oldboy limited to 500 copies, 2,000 copies and 5,000 copies respectively, all of which instantly sold out.  To make matters worse, Plain Archive will not ship to United States customers, making eBay your only option of seeing this ornate and definitive special edition of this timeless South Korean classic.  A shame, as the remastering job is splendid and breathes new life into a film I thought I had seen dozens of times before and now feel with this remaster that I’m seeing it for the very first time.  If you have the means, the Plain Archive remaster is among the very best blu-rays produced in the year 2016.  Just try not to be too shocked if most of the copies you come across exceed the $100 range.

-Andrew Kotwicki