By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
The original Oldboy, directed by Park Chan-wook, justly holds the reputation as the finest film to come out of South Korea’s underrated film industry. So, it was just a matter of time before it got remade. That time turned out to be a full decade, as directors Steven Spielberg and Justin Lin and stars Will Smith, Colin Firth, Christian Bale, and Clive Owen all churned through the production. As the abysmal box office results proved, perhaps they were right.
Smith, in a show of solidarity, insisted on starring in his own 2013 box office bomb.
The real question is, why did anybody ever think a remake of an incest-laden, live octopus-eating brutal revenge flick was a commercial play? Oldboy is the tale of an alcoholic asshole, Joe (Josh Brolin), who wakes up after a bender in a hotel room… which he won’t be released from for 20 years. When he’s just as mysteriously released, he’s informed that if he can figure out who his captor was and why he imprisoned him, he will kill himself, give Joe 20 million dollars worth of jewels, and, oh, release his kidnapped daughter, Mia.
One of the primary complaints some reviewers had for this film was that it doesn’t separate itself from the original enough. I have to categorically disagree with that, actually. Here, Spike Lee very much puts his own distinctive fucked up sheen on both the story and the visuals.
Nope, you’re thinking of C.S.A., but yeah, that would be up Lee’s alley.
In the lead, Brolin does a good job establishing his dickishness, followed by his badassery, pain, and vulnerability. The role calls for a lot, and he’s well up to the task. As for the rest of the acting, Michael Imperioli is good in the friend role, Elizabeth Olsen does her best in an underwritten part, Samuel L. Jackson is delightfully weird and menacing, and as for the much-maligned Sharlto Copley, I don’t want to be right if enjoying Sharlto Copley masticating the fuck out of some scenery with yet another eccentric character is wrong.
As much as Lee separates itself from the original, there is still quite a bit that he ends up keeping, and the stuff that is kept, just doesn’t come close to the original. (I’m looking at you, hammer fight.)
This might be a function of the 35 minutes missing from the studio cut of the film, but the storytelling often uses some pretty big leaps of logic to get from point A to point B. (Obviously, the guy making the big order at the dumping house must be working for the private prison, etc. etc.)
Whoever orders that many dumplings must be evil.
In a plot this twisty, there’s always a hole or two to account for. However…
How do you make a long, long list of people you’ve wronged, and not remember the family you destroyed back in prep school exactly?
While imperfect, this film is not nearly as bad as some folks say it is, with enough eccentric personal touches by Spike Lee present to make you wonder how good his 140 minute cut of it is (in typical Lee fashion, the studio screwed him over and recut the 105 minute theatrical version). Either way, though, this, and the original, are textbook examples of movies that aren’t for everyone.
Take a Drink: anytime Josh Brolin does
Take a Drink: for dumplings
Take a Drink: when Samuel L. Jackson flashes some crazy eyes (pictures count)
Take a Drink: when Sharlto Copley out-crazies the lot of them
Do a Shot: whenever incest rears its oh-so-wrong head