Surround sound options are available in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 6.1 mix. The DTS mix is great – very active and properly balanced demonstrating distinct channel separation, crystal clear dialogue, and great use of the rear channels for sound effects and background music. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has slightly less LFE in it, but is also quite solid and the score sounds fantastic regardless of which option you choose. This is a very, very layered mix used in this film, and this DVD does a very good job of exposing everything that's hiding in the background with crystal clear audio. Optional subtitles are available in Korean and in English. Clarity is great both tracks, and the DTS mix sounds exceptionally good, particularly when the soundtrack kicks in or when the more action-oriented scenes take place.
The extras for this release are spread across the three discs in the set. Each and every one of the interviews and documentaries contained throughout this set are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Here's what you'll find and where you'll find it:
The first disc contains two commentary tracks and an alternate audio track that contains everything but the dialogue (in essence, it's the sound effects and the score only). The first commentary track is with director Lee Myeong-se and three of the actors from the film: Ha Ji-won, Kang Dong-wan, and Ahn Seong-gi. The second commentary track is with Lee Myeong-se again, this time joined by the film's composer, Joh Seo-woo and South Korean film critic Kang Han-seob. Unfortunately, neither one of the commentary tracks are subtitled in English which makes them completely impenetrable to those of us who aren't fluent in Korean but sampling the tracks proves that they're both very active with a lot of discussion contained in both – those who speak Korean would be in for a treat here, they're probably quite interesting. Watching the film without the dialogue and only the effects and the score with the English subtitles on is an interesting experience and it's worth trying this for a few of the key scenes just to kind of get an appreciation for how much detail is in the mix. It also gives you a chance to really appreciate the beauty of Joh Seo-woo's fantastic film score.
The biggest and best extra feature on the second disc comes in the form of a forty-five minute long making of documentary entitled Josen Love Story that is unfortunately not subtitled in English, nor are any of the other supplements on this disc. Thankfully for this featurette, it doesn't matter so much as the vast majority of what we get with this segment is random behind the scenes footage and effects footage because of that there isn't a lot of dialogue to translate in the first place. The director does show up and speak in a few spots here and there but other than that, this is pretty easy to follow even with the language barrier and it does do a pretty good job of giving us at least a rough idea of what it was like on the set of the film as it was in production. The soundtrack from the movie plays out over a lot of this material and we get a peek at how a few of the key scenes were created, which makes for interesting viewing.
Also on the second disc is a featurette entitled Beyond The Historical Investigation that takes a look at the visuals for the film by way of examining the costumes, the set design, the art direction and some of the props and weapons used in the film. There's a lot of dialogue and interview footage in here and without subs its tricky to say exactly what is discussed but we get to check out some of the design work that was created for the movie as well as how some of the costumes were designed. At over thirty-five minutes in length this appears to be fairly comprehensive and probably a pretty enjoyable supplement for those who speak the language.
Up next are three interview segments, the first is with a few of the cast members (Ha Ji-won, Kang Dong-won, and Ahn Sung-gi) and it runs for just shy of twelve-minutes, the second is with the editor of the film, Go Im-pyo, and it runs for just over fifteen-minutes and the third and final one is with composer Joh Seo-woo and it clocks in at a little over twelve-minutes in length. No English subtitles are supplied for these interviews.
A twelve and a half minute featurette on the digital effects and computer/CGI work is up next and even without being able to understand the dialogue this is still an interesting look at what went into creating the environment for the film. We see a lot of clips that show the movie with and without the optical effects applied to it in post production to give us a comparison to show how much the effects work was worked into the final version of the movie. What's surprising about this is just how much of the film was shot against a green screen – there are a few spots in the movie that you'd figure were shot on sets or actual locations but were in fact done with some pretty seamless computer work.
Director Lee Myeong-se again is joined by the film's composer, Joh Seo-woo, and South Korean film critic Kang Han-seob for a twenty-two and a half minute long video taped discussion of the film. The lack of subtitles makes this one tricky to get around. Interestingly enough, this entire discussion is shot in black and white.
Finishing off the second disc is a wealth of electronic press kit materials including a teaser trailer, a six and a half minute long promotional spot made up for the film to be shown at Cannes, the full length Korean theatrical trailer, a television commercial for the film and finally a music video for the main theme used in the movie.
The best supplement by far in the entire three disc set is the hour and twenty minute long Josen Noir – The Making Of The Duelist documentary that, thankfully does include optional English subtitles throughout. This is an excellent and informative documentary that uses some great clips of the cast and crew on set cut in with some interviews and some behind the scenes footage to give us a very comprehensive look at the making of the film. We see Lee Myeong-se behind the camera directing a few scenes, and we also get to hear about his working methods and the ways in which he brings his ideas to the screen (he was some unorthodox directing quirks that make him an interesting subject) and in fact, a lot of the focus of this piece is on Lee Myeong-se himself, rather than on the making of the movie. We get to see his strengths and his weaknesses all come into light in his interaction with a few of the performers and what really comes through is just how passionate about filmmaking he really is. We see him ponder the merits of mainstream acceptance after a screening of the film in Toronto, which gives us some insight into how he feels about his work which is quite an intimate little side to get to understand and as such, this documentary is, at times, as interesting as the feature itself.
Finishing off the third disc is another music video and eight minutes worth of footage from one of the film's Korean screenings entitled Duelist Poison in which some of the people who watched the film give their take on it – the lack of subtitles makes this one a little difficult to get around..
Also completely worth mentioning is the packaging for this release. All three discs are housed inside a clothbound case that looks like a book from the outside but that opens up to reveal some nice artwork and interesting design efforts. Also included inside the packaging is a very nice book, sadly all in Korean, that contains some notes on the film and what appears to be some biographical information for a few of the cast and crew members. The book contains some great images that look really nice on the thick, glossy paper stock that they've used to print it up on.
The Duelist is a completely gorgeous film that benefits from a solid storyline and some amazing visuals and art direction. Performances are strong throughout and the film is both interesting and entertaining in spite of the noted flaws. The three disc set from EnterOne DVD is a top notch effort all around and while it's regrettable that not all of the extras are subbed, the documentary that is happens to be an exceptionally interesting look at the making of the film. The DVD looks and sounds fantastic, and this one comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.