Oldboy (2013) – Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Oldboy (2013) - Review

US remake not as good as original shocker.

I remember very clearly the first time I watched Chan-wook Park’s Old Boy (2003). After hearing a lot of press coverage from it I decided to order the deluxe Region 3 version that came in a beautifully designed book. Everything about it seemed like it had been designed to nth degree. Watching the film for the first time I knew I was watching something truly wonderful. It looked great. The story was dark and compelling. The violence mesmeric. The humour , ice cold. The performances were terrifying. I had to watch it a second time the next just to remember what happened. Yeah that sounds a bit lame but I was completely over awed by it.

Then wouldn’t you know it? A few years later the standard US remake talk pops it’s inevitable shitty head up. Talk of Spielberg and Will Smith abounded. Then it went a way. Phew. But oh no what’s that? Old Boy – A Spike Lee Joint? Eh, okay let’s give it a shot. Josh Brolin’s a solid choice. Elizabeth Olsen it’s a good actress. Samuel L. Jackson, sure I’m bored to death of him now but let’s go with it. Maybe Spike Lee can add some of his over-the-top theatrical flourish to what is already a plot of Shakespearean proportions.

Well, it’s alright. It feels like a thriller that BBC One would put on at 11:30 on Friday night. You’re a bit tired and ready to dose of but you start this film and the hook draws you in enough to want to find out the resolution. The film is passable. You just want the closure. Lee’s proposed edit of the film lasted 140 mins. In it’s released form it was trimmed to 95 mins. Lee disliked the released cut so much that he venomously credit Old Boy as ‘A Spike Lee Film’ instead of “Joint”. It’s clear watching the film that it’s been cut to damnation. The third act breezes by so quickly that I was amazed that we had actually reached the climax. I was expecting some kind of extended epilogue. This is a very meat and potatoes telling of the story. The original kick started the plot quick enough as does this version but allowed the second act to draw out as the riddle of Oh Dae-Su’s imprisonment unfolded. This version basically tells you everything up front. It reminded me of the Tales of Interest segments in Futrama, where a voice over spends thirty seconds proposing a hypothetical question on life’s big questions then a character would blurt out the punchline in 1 second.

Odd nods are made to the original film that just reminds you that this version lacks an edge. Brolin stares at an octopus in a fish tank. Why that had to be in the film at all I don’t know. The infamous one-shot hammer fight scene is replicated for around 10 seconds, makes you think it’s finished but the camera pans down some steps then it keeps going. The original’s heavy use of internet searching has now been updated to include iPhones and Shazam.

For his part Lee has kept himself on auto-pilot. A couple of shots here and there where he straps a camera to Brolin’s back or filmed him on a platform so he glides rather than walks (an annoying trait that rarely looks good, apart from Clockers). He seems to have kept the original’s colour palette and even the same set in some cases. There’s an unoriginal feeling about the whole work, it does nothing to stop the question; why remake it at all? Sadly it was financial cause this version bombed.

Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen both turn in fantastic performances, Sharlto Copley is just as over-the-top and painful as you may have hear. I’m not entirely sure what film he thinks he’s in. Not as bad as it could have been, but also not as great. There was the chance to do something different with this great material instead Lee has made yet another pointless and bland remake.

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