I never want to be accused of having timely or thorough information on my blog, so I decided while waiting for supplies of I'm a Cyborg, But It's Okay DVD to resurface, I would take a look at the 3 disc Ultimate Collectors Edition of Oldboy that Tartan put out last year. For the record, I own the Korean 2 disc set of Oldboy that is long out of print and am very happy with it. It has a host of special features but none of them have subtitles. I rented the 3 disc set from my local video store, and spent two nights with it, although I could have easily spent the entire seven night rental period with it. In other words, as if there was any doubt, there is quite a bit of content on the three DVDs and most of it is pretty interesting, but a little redundant. I can only assume that the Tartan Ultimate Edition uses the same material included in the Korean Ultimate Edition that also came out.
First a little note on packaging, from an annoying collectors standpoint. The tins that some special edition DVDs come housed in are really nice looking, but not functional. I have a couple and with the spine out, it is just an unmarked case. Sure when you pull it out it looks nice, but does not fit the bill for good packaging. I would say the same for the oversized tin that Oldboy come in, but at least they have included the name on the spine of the tin. Obviously, I did not get any of the goodies inside with my rental (Oldboy graphic novel, the film cells and any of the original packaging for the DVDs), but photos I have seen look very nice. (But yes, nothing compared to the Korean edition.)
Disc one contains the film with three audio commentaries: 1) with director Park Chan-wook, 2) with director Park Chan-wook and cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun, and 3) with director Park Chan-wook and cast members Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yoo Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin) and Kang Hye-jeong (Mido). All the commentaries are in Korean and subtitled. I elected to listen to the first commentary with just Park, and although it was engaging enough that I enjoyed watching the film for what was about the forth time for me, Park's commentary stayed technical and formal. He talked at length about his choice of colors and the use of bleach bypass process used to get the heavy contrast and color saturation. He took note of his conscious choices to use what he called stylistic cliches, such as the montage as Oh Dae-su and Mido search for the correct dumplings. You can definitely see the further development of this desire to exploit filmic cliches in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance for what is, in every other sense, an unconventional film. I kept waiting for Park to ponder his motivations for the "revenge trilogy" or even just his intentions with Oldboy, but this dialogue never surfaced.
I listened to about 15 minutes of the commentary with cinematographer Jeong, but found it redundant to Park's solo commentary. I listened to a bit more of the cast commentary, and I'm sure there were interesting tidbits to be had considering Choi Min-sik's involvement in the film, but much of it seemed inane: "remember how many takes we did there," "I was really drunk there," "Min-sik was farting a lot," and so on.
In the audio department there was an English dub for the film itself. I turned the dub on while the commentary was running, so I had this absurd dub and subs for the commentary. Paying for an English dub for the film is just beyond me. It sounded and looked terrible. All essence of the film is lost.
Disc two included a boatload of material: 1) Making the film, 2) Production design, 3) The music score, 4) CGI documentary, 5) Flashback, 6) Cast and crew interviews, 7) Ten deleted scenes with Optional Commentary, and 7) Le Grand Prix at Cannes featurette. I feel that I barely scratched the surface of the material here, and this would have been where an extra night with this edition would have come from. I sampled a little everything, and found most of it interesting as a fan of the film, but nothing too groundbreaking.
Disc three was a video diary of the shooting of Oldboy. Out of all the supplementary material, I found this most interesting. It was over two hours of raw footage from someone documenting the production with very little editing. I can't say that anyone was paying attention to or at all self conscious of this video cam rolling in the background, so you truly feel like you are getting a behind the scenes look. There are also some guest appearances: Lee Byung-heon (Bittersweet Life, JSA) shows up during shooting and gives a little cudos to director Park Chan-wook, and Song Kang-ho (The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) shows up on set for no other reason than to hang around and needle Choi Min-sik and Park.
Overall, a pretty cool set. If I hadn't already had a copy and had unlimited resources, I would have bought this one. The fact that Tartan wanted to put out a set like this is encouraging. More often than not a set like this will come out in the country of origin, and while there may be subtitles for the film, there is no way there are going to be subs on the supplementary material. My biggest complaint about the DVDs was that you were forced to watch the promotional trailer for Tartan's Asia Extreme label at the beginning of each DVD. This got tiresome after switching DVDs back and forth, especially because it runs a few minutes long. I would be the first to say that Tartan has done a great job in distributing some great Asian films, both in the US and the UK, but put this bullshit on one of the DVDs, not all of them. Ironically watching the Asian Extreme trailer is one of the "special features" on disc three.
And this just in for those intersted in special edition DVDs, it looks like the Vengeance Trilogy seven disc set from Korea is due out on July 14 for a cool $90. Check it out on Sensasian HERE.