I was a late-comer to the madness that is Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy – I first watched it on Netflix while vacationing in South Carolina (because when you’re in a foreign country, TV is everything to the transportation-less) back in 2011, but I immediately knew what I had been missing out on. Spike Lee’s American adaptation isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests, but it’s like comparing a Big Mac to a gourmet burger – their just isn’t any comparison, as you’ll find out in our Oldboy 2013 DVD Review.
A drunken father and ex-husband finds himself in a strange apartment with no way of escape. Trapped for 20 years, he is finally released and begins the frantic search for his jailer and his long lost daughter.
If you consider yourself a fan of the original masterpiece, this one is worth a rental just to make comparisons. For everyone else, if psychological thrillers and mysteries are your thing, this is worthy edition to your collection should you find subtitles more unsettling than the story. If you need a better reason to watch this or the original film, we even included it in our article on films to beat the Valentines Day Blues.
The Bottom Line
From the moment I heard about this Oldboy remake, I was a little confused – this isn’t the sort of film that Spike Lee usually tackles (especially given that the majority of the cast is much lighter in skin colour than what he’s usually filming). In fact, this is about as far from Spike Lee as it could possibly get. It just doesn’t fit, nevertheless, he’s still a capable filmmaker, and while he doesn’t butcher the source (aside from the memorable basement fight scene of the original), it’s had that candy-apple paintcoat applied to the dingy, surreal hue of Park’s original film.
Through the translation, many of the more iconic and “Eastern” storytelling devices have either been dulled down or removed entirely, and even though these don’t impact greatly on the plot itself, it feels less like the psychological sucker-punch that it used to be.
Tonally, this film isn’t anything like what you’d expect, and to a degree, the casting is to blame. That said, it’s a really good cast: Josh Brolin plays the mentally shell-shocked Joe Doucett to brilliant effect – he doesn’t pull off the crazy that well but he delivers a solid bit of acting with sparks of versatility. On the opposite side is Sharlto Copley once again playing the villain, and while we know that he can do crazy quite well, he doesn’t possess the required presence; it could be his peculiar British accent or his higher tonal range, but he just doesn’t convey the sadistic mastermind that would have been more at home with a Tom Hardy or Mark Strong.
And then there’s the wild-card – Elizabeth Olsen. This woman is just fantastic in everything she does and it’s hard to believe that she stems from the same gene pool as the infamous Full House twins Mary-Kate and Ashley. Oldboy is no exception, he is everything the plot needs her to be, but in all honesty her character feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake feels like a forced cash-in for the most part – it doesn’t improve on the original, and much of the stylish cinematography is lost during the journey. Tonally, the film feels a bit confused, and in spite of what everyone has said, Oldboy 2013 remains a very watchable if somewhat misguided attempt at bringing cutting-edge Korean cinema to the West. But, as watchable as Spike Lee’s rendition may be, why would anyone watch it when it was done better over ten years ago?