Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence, Disturbing Images, some Graphic Sexuality and Nudity, and Language
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Mark Protosevich
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, James Ransone & Lance Reddick
When the announcement came that Spike Lee was remaking OLDBOY, the internet blew up in a cloud of cinephile rage. That seems to be the case with most remakes. As far as Park Chan-Wook’s 2003 OLDBOY is concerned, I find the original film to be good, but not the masterpiece that plenty claim it is. The original source material behind that film was a manga, so the possibility was left open that Spike Lee could be making his own adaptation of the manga instead of just remaking the previous film (e.g. David Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO). Having now seen the Lee’s version it’s pretty clear that he was just remaking the 2003 Korean film. Though there are some minor variations in the plot, this 2013 remake is the same story spoken in English. Some parts improve on the original film and other parts don’t measure up. 2013’s OLDBOY does wind up being a decent retelling of a story revolving around violence and revenge.
Joe Doucett is a scumbag. There’s no other description for this alcoholic (as he refers to himself) bullshit artist. Over the years, Joe has made quite a few enemies. One of them wants revenge. After a night of hard-drinking, Joe wakes up in a hotel room. He discovers that the room is actually a cell and he spends the next 20 years of his life in solitary confinement of this single room. Framed for the murder of his wife and desperate to see his daughter again, Joe wakes one morning in a field to find himself free from the confined quarters of the room. His mind is immediately on revenge. As he investigates the list of possible suspects, a romantic relationship develops with a young nurse. Joe’s enemy isn’t through toying with him yet and has a few bigger surprises in store.
Seeing as this is a remake to an acclaimed film, comparisons between both versions are inevitable. Personally, I still barely prefer the original film. Spike Lee did improve certain things that really didn’t work for me in the 2003 version. One of these is that the 2003 film had a grainy style to it, while the remake has a slick style that looks superior in every way. This OLDBOY remake also has a grimmer atmosphere than the original and I give credit to the glossy visuals for that accomplishment. One notable elongated fight scene (that has been nicknamed Hammer Time or the Hallway scene) is set in a different layout and I thought it was better executed in this version. The long scenes of Joe’s confinement do a great job of placing the viewer in the room with him. I felt the hopeless frustration he was going through and looked forward to him bringing an ungodly violent revenge upon the heads of those who imprisoned him.
The actors range in their performances. Elizabeth Olsen fares far better here than in the last remake she did (SILENT HOUSE), but isn’t near her best performance level (MARTHA, MARCY, MAY, MARLENE). Samuel L. Jackson is without a doubt the most ridiculously laughable character. His crazy fashion sense, along with over-the-top threats are unintentionally hilarious. It took me right out of his supposedly serious scenes. On the other side of things, Sharlto Copley is great as the intimidating stranger who taunts Joe. Despite Josh Brolin being able to knock Copley’s character flat on his ass, the mastermind always seems to be one step ahead. Finally, there’s Josh Brolin himself and his performance seems to depend on which scene he’s in. The only real bad moment was when Joe was drunk. It kind of felt like watching a friend pretend to be drunk….when they’re not really drunk. It was on that level of embarrassing, but otherwise he delivers solid moments throughout.
The biggest problems comes in important pieces in the story feeling forced. A big one would be the developing romance between Brolin and Olsen. Instead of giving the characters time to warm up to each other, the film seems to flip a switch for their love to be ignited when convenient for the plot to move forward. It also feels like there are a few scenes missing, which makes sense because the studio trimmed out a good chunk in the post-production. These pacing issues only start once Joe wakes up outside of the hotel room. From then on, there are rushed moments throughout. Notably, the film doesn’t puss out on the controversial ending though. There are some variations but the shocking nature of what comes packs a powerful punch. It would have been even more effective if certain scenes felt more convincing.
Both versions of OLDBOY have flaws and silly moments. I prefer the original film, but just barely. If the studio hadn’t meddled to the point of removing nearly 40 minutes of film from the final cut, then the OLDBOY remake could have been on a level of remake near THE DEPARTED. The pacing issues and rushed scenes can easily be passed off on the studio’s mistake. There are many things that I dug more in this 2013 film than I did in the Korean original. It still hits the same beats and doesn’t stray too far from where the original went. So if you are a massive fan of Park Chan-Wook’s film, then you’ve got no real reason to watch this one. This is a decent remake in my opinion and improved on the original in some respects. In the end, it’s really up to you on which version of OLDBOY you want to watch. Either way, you’re in for a twisted tale of revenge (just depends on which language or director you prefer).