This remake was in the works for quite a while since Pan Chan-wook’s dark twisted cinematic masterpiece Oldboy, various names for directors such as Justin Lin and at one point a remake starring Will Smith with Spielberg at the helm, drawing from the sources from the original Manga comic from which the Korean film’s based on. However with publishing rights stopping the production, the project seemed dead in the water which is a shame because adapting from the original score martial is arguably the best way do a fresh take on Oldboy.
So now steps in Spike Lee, this time ignoring the Manga comic and looking solely at Chan-wook’s film for the basis of this new take. This seems to vex most film fans, remaking beloved classics either for American audiences or to bring it up to date, adding nothing new or creative that works as its own film. So has Lee made a remake that has its own identity?
The story goes, Josh Brolin is an advertising executive Joe Doucett who is a slobbish sleazy drunk and after ruining a meeting with a potential client, goes on a drunken rampage only to be taken mysteriously without a trace. He wakes up only to find himself trapped prisoner inside a room and framed for the murder of his ex-wife as his daughter sent away for adoption. Held captive for 20 years he plots his revenge on the persons responsible for his imprisonment. After a failed attempt of an escape, Joe get released free without any clue why and now sober and driven only by anger, revenge and the hope of retribution with his now grown up daughter he seeks to claim back the injustice he has suffered.
This take on Oldboy is guilty of the what most english language remakes tend to do and is to stay too faithful to its foreign counterpart without making a true mark of its own. However with that said, it still works as its own film for 3 main reasons. The first is that it’s brilliantly cast. Josh Brolin is the perfect choice to take on the role that Choi Min-sik so famously immortalised. While being completely convincing as a pathetic sum-bag what drinks vodka consistently, he maintains a darkness inside while at the same time does a great job at being a venerable mess deep down. Elisabeth Olson is great as she always is as Marie, a nurse who can’t resist to help Joe. Olson is a likeable screen presence and adds a touch of class that helps you through the film as it enters some dark places. Even though this is a retelling of a film that ten years old to talk about Sharpo Copley too much may give too much away for new comers to the story, but he gives the most flamboyant performance in the film, next to Samuel L Jackson’s wardrobe choices. Playing it like a camp Bond villein with an odd European accent, perfectly trim beard and with a OTT dress code, he sticks out like a sore thumb but put in context with his convoluted plot that he schemes, it suits his character to some degree and his moves on to the second point. Spike Lee, even though he keeps in certain style, tone and makes many references to the 2003 film, he adds enough visual flair of his own that make this stand out from the other bland english languish remakes of foreign films. As a result it feels like a mixed bag in terms of its own identity, but Lee directs his scenes well enough to make things interesting. The third reason is that it is very enjoyable. Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich has taken this wired twisted story and soften the edges slightly to make it more accessible while staying true twisted nature of Chan-wook’s film.
Like most remakes it ties to keep in or reference the more iconic moments, such as the hall way hammer fight scene and giving a nod to an octopus and many nods to Asian culture as if stepping away from them would be an insult. Oldboy (2013) feels as ballsy Samuel L Jackson’s blond mohawk, having more colourful and off beat characters rather than being dark and calculating like its predecessor, than but you almost wish it had a bigger pair and let it be a Spike Lee film. The first cut of the film was 140 minutes long and this is that Lee himself is happiest with , but with 35 minutes cut, I do wonder what The Spike Lee Joint of this film actually looks like. Who knows but until then, fans will always see this take as inferior, but for now, mark this a better than average remake..