What I Learned from the

What I Learned from the “Oldboy” Commentary

This time around I watched the director commentary available on the Tartan Asia Extreme 10th Anniversary Edition. I also watched the deleted scenes with commentary and some of the special features. Anything I learned while watching or seemed of particular interest I took note of. As with any commentary, spoiler warnings abound.

  • Choi Min-sik is a method actor
  • One of the major themes in this film is time. The opening credits, with Korean letters spinning like the hands on a clock illustrate this, and the “one way” road sign is meant to indicate the one way direction of time.
  • The ants don’t mean anything. Park Chan-wook mentions that they are cute (lolwut?), and other than that they are scary when they’re all over your face - true!
  • Much of the plot and a number of scenes are meant to illustrate that while Oh Dae-su’s efforts are Herculean or extreme… they are ultimately fruitless (e.g. his years of tunneling through the wall end abruptly when he is released)
  • Frankenstein’s monster, who appears on the prison television, was a prototype for Oh Dae-su’s alter ego. The final confrontation in Lee Woo-jin’s highrise penthouse was meant to mirror the confrontation at the end of The Bride of Frankenstein (starring Boris Karloff)
  • Upon release Oh Dae-su is selfish and apathetic, this is his monstrous form. This can be observed by his apparent lack of concern regarding the suicide, and that he stole sunglasses from woman in elevator. He has become an “incarnation of vengeance”
  • Park regretted shooting just one of the deleted scenes,: a scene that introduces Dae-su to the prison. He felt it was unnecessary and something you would see in lesser films.
  • Park Chan-wook admits he doesn’t watch TV, but the idea of someone who learns everything from TV was interesting to him
  • Mido’s restaurant was originally named Akira as an homage to Kurosawa Akira. The restaurant they found in Busan was named Mediterranean and they didn’t spend money to change the sign
  • The scene in Mido’s restaurant sets the color palette for the rest of the film: green, purple, and black
  • Eating the octopus was to show both Oh Dae-su’s desire for something alive after years being accompanied only by a TV, and to illustrate his hostility for Lee Woo-jin
  • Choi Min-sik is Buddhist and not supposed to eat live or raw animals, but he doesn’t follow it strictly. They did 4-5 takes with the octopus
  • Dumpling eating montage: Park Chan-wook describes montage scenes as cliché and used a lot in cheap films, but brought the right energy to Oldboy in his opinion. Showing taboo elements with conventional film techniques gave a more interesting result in his opinion
  • The hallway fight scene is similar to the grand paintings of the middle ages or Renaissance with lots of people in them like those by Diego Velasquez. The gang members are holding wooden sticks, he wanted them to be like knights holding lances or etc
  • The hallway fight is meaningless. Another example of Oh Dae-su’s gruesome efforts which ultimately have no impact on the outcome. Oh Dae-su feels more empty and alone here and asking himself “Why do I have to do this?”
  • The hallway fight was storyboarded for 100+ shots. They went for the single long take while filming
  • Oh Dae-su is like a wounded beast. The working title for the film was Beast
  • The schedule was so tight that Choi Min-sik fell asleep while the camera was rolling
  • Lee Woo-jin stops growing after the events at the school, and it is shown in his user id “evergreen”. Even if he gets old he doesn’t get wrinkles, much like The Picture of Dorian Gray. That was Park’s idea of the character
  • A kiss scene was filmed to replace the sex scene for the TV release .
  • When Lee Woo-jin visits them with the gas mask on in the hotel, right after the sex scene, Park found that scene to be the most offensive in this violent movie. Removing the bed sheet from her with a single finger suggests rape
  • Park’s intent was for the film to be more cartoonish than his others. Exaggerated and emotionally rich
  • Viewers watching first vs subsequent times were considered in the casting (e.g., Mido needs to look like a baby the second time around), plotwise/editing (a line was left in insinuating that Mido may be a spy for Lee Woo-jin - but on second viewing we know he’s plotted the whole thing)
  • Park got the idea for the chase scene with two Dae-su’s chasing a man in the past from Brian de Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”. Not the past & present, but the rhythm of the editing
  • The female voice on the elevator saying “its a wrong combination” cross cut with the scene of Mido and Oh Dae-su hugging is telling us something is wrong with their union
  • The final scene is meant to be ambiguous. It is meant to be mysterious or feel like it could be an illusion. The time and place are unclear. Why are they sitting in the snow? Whose footsteps are they really? Mido doesn’t appear to have aged, but Dae-su definitely has grey hairs now

Thank you for listening to this terrible story

  • Park Chan-wook

Anyway, as always, I enjoyed my time with the film. There are 2 other commentaries available on the T.A.E. BD - one for Director & Cinematographer, and another for Director & Cast. I will surely check one of those out next time.