*** (out of 5)
November 27, 2013
Josh Brolin as JOE DOUCETT
Elizabeth Olsen as MARIE SEBASTIAN
Sharlto Copley as THE STRANGER
Samuel L. Jackson as CHANEY
Michael Imperioli as CHUCKY
Pom Klementieff as HAENG-BOK
Directed by: Spike Lee
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There are several ways I tend to differentiate from your average film critic floating around on the internet. First of all, I’m not against remakes out of principle. I’m okay with remakes when there’s a reason to remake a film. After all, two of my favorite films of all time – 1953’s “House of Wax” and 1978’s “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – are remakes. So there’s definitely a track record of them coming out right.
I’m also not a die-hard fan of extreme Asian cinema. There are some films that are okay, but I don’t think the crazy, off-putting films that have been coming out of Japan, Hong Kong and Korea over the last decade and a half have been untouchable. In this respect, I wouldn’t count myself as a fan of Chan-Wook Park, or of his 2003 film “Oldboy.”
The idea to remake a foreign language film is fine with me. I understand the argument that there’s no reason to do a shot-for-shot remake of a film like “Quarantine” when someone can just rent “[REC],” but I also understand that very few people actually with bother with a foreign language film. That’s just the way the world is. Deal with it.
So I wasn’t freaking out when it was announced that Spike Lee would be remaking Park’s “Oldboy.” I had seen the original, and while it was interesting, it wasn’t the beginning and the end of cinema. Also, Lee is an intensely talented director who shackles himself too much to political pieces, limiting his abilities. I was very interesting in seeing what he did with something that wasn’t meant to address race relations in America.
The movie’s set-up is similar to the original. Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a smarmy hustler who is kidnapped by mysterious forces and imprisoned in a room for 20 years. During this time, he learns that his ex-wife has been murdered, and his daughter has been raised thinking he was the killer. After two decades of being a prisoner, he is released, which sets him on the road to gather information about his captors and to seek revenge.
I’ll be the first to admit that this version of “Oldboy” is not a particularly good movie. It’s got some very awkward pacing issues. It gets unnecessarily obtuse (which is most likely trying to stay true to the bizarre tone of the original). It also features some amazingly goofy elements, including a mustache-twirling villain played by Sharlto Copley. These elements make the movie excessively cartoonish, which detracts from the more disturbing elements of the film.
However, with all of this taken into account, there’s some pretty cool things about the movie. First, Josh Brolin is pretty fantastic in the film, delivering a powerful and layered performance. Lee’s composition of shots is also strong, and it really only crumbles when he tries too hard to pay homage to Park’s original film.
The infamous plot twist in the film doesn’t hold as much impact as the original Korean film, partly because those familiar with Park’s “Oldboy” will see it coming, but also because there’s a certain degree of cultural differences that make it much worse in the original.
Lee changes some things up, and I can’t say these were bad changes. It’s not his best film, and it’s certainly his most restrained (by which, I mean it feels like he had the least amount of freedom with it.). Goofy and corny at times, Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” seems to be destined for many enjoyable drunken viewings on bad movie night in the future. It just has to age a bit before it gets there.