Warning: this review is for the consumption of people who have seen the original “Oldboy”. It is full of spoilers, so, please do not read any further if this does not describe you.
So here we are again, facing down a “re-imagineing ” of a beloved film. Spike Lee has some serious chutzpah to even think about taking on Chan-wook Park’s brilliant story of revenge. Normally, Spike Lee presents us with a “Spike Lee Joint”, but “Oldboy” is a ” Spike Lee Film”. So, right from the opening credits, Lee is letting you know that this is something different and he’s certainly working outside of his box. I know that the general consensus on remakes is severe hatred, but lots of classics are, in fact, remakes. I’d like to take this moment to remind you that “The Wizard Of Oz”, ” Scarface”, “A Fistful Of Dollars”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and the “original” “Last House On The Left” are all remakes. Wes Craven’s “Last House On The Left” is a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”. Is Lee’s “Oldboy” good enough to be put onto this list? It might be. A great story is a great story. Yes, you have to dig deep and try to forget you’ve seen the brilliance of the original film, but if you can accomplish that, you’ll have a great time watching Josh Brolin take on the Dae-su Oh character and Sharlto Copley take on the Woo-jin Lee character.
The set up showing us what a jerk Joe Doucett (Brolin) is could have been a bit shorter and there were times when all I could see was Brolin inhabiting W. again. This isn’t technically a bad thing because he did an outstanding job in W., but it was a wee bit distracting at times. You will be treated to the visual of the angel wings before Joe wakes up in his prison, but you won’t see them again. Rather than “Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep and you weep alone” Joe is confronted with a picture of a bellhop who says, “Welcome. What can we do to improve your stay?” Otherwise, this room is pretty much the same. In Lee’s version Joe’s ultimate demise is set up with the use of a crime show on the television. It’s here that he learns of his ex-wife’s rape and murder and his daughter, Mia, and her adoptive parents. Years later, Joe gets an update on Mia from this same show. It’s this episode that ignites his passion to become sober and turn himself into a fighting machine. Brolin starts out with a pretty impressive gut and then transforms into a slightly leaner version of Jason Statham;it’s pretty remarkable. Although I missed the visual of his hand reaching out of that single brick hole into the rain, I was delighted with the torture scene and the epic fight scene. Samuel L. Jackson is the unfortunate receiver of torture; no, the hammer is not utilized, but knitting needles, a box cutter and salt is and it’s cringe worthy.
O.K., obviously, the tracking shot of Dae-su Oh going berserk and taking down all of those men, with a knife in his back, is untouchable. Lee did something similar, but it’s in three different takes and it’s pretty awesome. My only complaint is that Brolin looked like more of an action hero in this sequence, whereas, Choi in the original was more of a man fueled by crazy anger and vengeance.
This movie looks beautiful:it has striking visuals placed here and there throughout and the fashion does an exceptional job of portraying the different personalities of the characters. Copley is especially striking in his bespoke suits, slicked-back hair, piercing eyes and creepy accent. He really embraced this role and went with it. In a small twist, his constant companion is a gorgeous, but deadly, woman as opposed to the bleach blonde man in the original.
Yes, yes, yes, they kept the twist in. Dare I say, they even upped the ante on how awful it is? Copley wasn’t sleeping with his sister:he and his sister were both sleeping with their father and they believed it to be something beautiful and special. After Doucett’s big mouth lets the family secret out, the father murders his family and kills himself. It’s in this flashback that you see how much Copley’s character truly loved his father and how much he misses him. Also, the gunshot to the head is amazing.
Copley’s delight in revealing his ultimate revenge to Joe is almost intoxicating. It’s strangely repulsive and sympathetic at the same time. Brolin’s reaction to the reveal that he’s been sleeping with his own daughter is well done, however, I would say that it’s “very American”. He shows as much pain and anguish as a tough American man would be willing to show while surrounded by the audio of him and his daughter having sex. Right before Copley shoots himself, he says, “heaven make me free of it;let the silence take over”. I really liked this, but again, this doesn’t have the same emotional gut punch as the original version.
Because the use of a television show and not hypnotism was used to set Joe up, the ending is quite a bit different. Joe chooses to return to his prison cell, knowing that he has taken care of his daughter and she will never be hurt by the same knowledge that he has. He actually smiles as the screen goes black; this is irritating and amusing at the same time.
I saw this movie with someone who had never seen the original version and they loved it. They were absolutely gobsmacked by the twist and found it to be an interesting and heartbreaking story. So, I ask this of you: put aside your feelings for Spike Lee and your feelings for remakes. Just go see the movie. Brolin is amazing, Copley is outstanding, the gore is just wonderful, the fight scenes are cool and the integrity of the story is maintained. Like I said, a great story is a great story.