Sunday, December 8, 2013


I've decided to review Oldboy (2013) for my amateur movie review. When creating an illustration for the article, I couldn't help but want to reference the original Korean Oldboy. But I believe it solely needed references of Spike Lee's remake. And while it was very tempting to mock it by creating an artwork of Spike Lee carbon copying the original film, I withheld my urges, feeling it would come off as cartoonish.

I wanted to give an overwhelming vibe by incorporating a variety of vague clues and nods to the story without specifically aiming at the sheer violence; playing with opacities & layering multiple imagery while using a palette of reds and teal-based blacks. I'm hoping it translates the chaotic anger-driven revenge built within the main character.


Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason. - IMDB description

Directed by Spike Lee
Starring - Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson & Michael Imperioli.  


Based on the 2003 Korean revenge cult classic of the same name, the year is 1993 and we begin with a premonitory glimpse of a store street sign that reads "Guns don't kill, people do" and under it is Joe Doucett. An arrogant, advertising executive & full-time drunk of an asshole who's surely put his foot in his mouth once too many times. A divorced man and uncaring father who despite his mild success in life thinks he's untouchable but also can't stand the look of his own reflection.

After a business meeting gone wrong, we follow him during the drizzly witching hours on an intoxicated ramble through Chinatown, making an utter fool of himself. Even his longtime buddy Chucky seems tired of his usual ways and turns him away when he shows up at his bar. As he walks away, Joe spots and approaches a see-through raincoat clad woman with a bright yellow umbrella. And poof! he disappears.

Doucett awakes in a crummy hotel room like a deja-vu from a one too many one-night stand. He quickly realizes that he is alone and locked up in a windowless room. The haunting of his own demons begin with having only but time to face himself. His only connection to the outside world is a TV. Through media reports, he's informed that he is wanted for the gruesome murder of his ex-wife which results in his daughter, Mia, being put up for adoption. He becomes intensively lonely, angry and delusional. Dumplings and a mickey of vodka served daily on a tray through a flappy dog door. Befriending a mouse becomes somewhat of a mind fuck. His routine imprisonment depicted over 2 decades worth of momentous news footage, fortifying his mission to find his daughter and kill his imprisoner. His sudden, unexplained release debuts his extensive search to extract revenge.

He acquires help with his good ol' friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen), a nurturing social worker who is drawn towards Doucett and nurses him back to health. Olsen is destined to grace the silver screen of the future with her natural acting ability but this role isn't quite as satisfying.

Early in the film, we are introduced to the mastermind behind Joe Doucett's captivity that is Adrian Pryce. Played by overnight sensation Shalto Copley in a twisted, moustache-twirling Disney villain fashion. He wants to fuck with Doucett and relishes every little moment of his struggles. Pryce is composed but batshit crazy. On the surface, his performance was intensely caricatured with erratic absurdity and lacked righteous integrity.

Bad ass motherfuckin' Samuel L Jackson makes an appearance as the warden of the private prison Doucett occupied. Jackson looks like an extra taken from The Fifth Element. In short, he looks completely ridiculous, acts so unconvincing that it is beyond laughable. I've always rooted for Jackson in the past but he's been such a let-down in the past years and someone needs to tell him to get off his bad ass motherfuckin' Jules Winnfield high horse and act for a change.

Brolin's first woop-ass scene was a quick paced fun treat (although gratuitous) but one scene in particular had me face away in embarrassment. Originally, it was a superbly executed climatic scene. The execution of Lee's re-imaginings of the iconic hammer scene was badly choreographed. So badly choreographed, I'm not sure if it was the intention but regardless, it did not exceed nor meet my expectations. All that was missing was the Batman-like POWs as Brolin received and threw punches. It's worth mentioning that people in the audience laughed. And a few walked away (although I suspect those were Oldboy fans).

It's hard to go into this movie if you've already seen the original version, I'll admit to that. It's hard to review a movie that was exquisitely sublime the first go-around but I was willing to give it a fair chance. In my opinion, the point of remakes is to breathe new life into them by stripping them apart and serving something entirely new. Taking a movie that was atrociously bad the first time, or mostly unheard of, and giving it an ambitious new / unfamiliar spin should be a remake's bedrock (I'm no director but I'd like to think it's no rocket science). But I was willing to be shocked once again.

Spike Lee hasn't done the right thing (that's right, I went there!) by choosing this movie to remake. Oldboy is a movie buff darling, so what exactly was there to change and re-adapt to a worldwide audience? My first impression as I walked out of the theatre, it appears Spike picked the highlights of Oldboy and said "Here you go guys! That's the jist of it. Buttotally re-imagined my way!" as opposed to giving fresh new perspectives. A variety of directors would have added more grit to its visual style or more substantial changes to the overall plot line. Unfortunately this was not as stylized and meticulously planned out as it could have been and Lee has made no efforts to re-shock and impress fans of the original into a memorable remake. It's evident that his heart was not 100% into it. Since word of an Oldboy remake had come around, he had claimed to be making a re-interpretation NOT a carbon copy. If it had been an adaptation, why has it faithful stayed so close to the original? This film was simply trying too hard to reconstruct something out from the old blocks which ended up tumbling down faster than you can say "Jenga".

While I do appreciate a deeper exploration into the characters, there are far too many nods to the original version to ignore. I would have loved to see Spike Lee's own vision, completely set apart from Chan-wook Park's. I had faith that perhaps he would have done a version that is more in line with the manga but as the 'new and improved' plot will have it, I think Lee's sole reliance was the 2003 film.

Brolin performed very well under the circumstances (and holy shit is he a handsome devil, exuding bad assness to the extreme). The transformation from a drunken baffoon to a ruthless man-with-a-purpose  caused by the mental scarring from his prolonged isolation to his yearn to find his daughter and seeking reasons for his imprisonment is electrifying. While the fight scenes were nowhere near on par with the original, he is credible as an unlikely killing machine.

Oldboy 2013 was bound to be haunted by the ghosts of Oldboy past. It's true, it's not fair for critics to judge this movie wholly on the fact that it will go down as one of the most disappointing foreign remakes in movie history. Had Oldboy mangas or the Korean film not existed (and in the everyday regular Joe's mind, they don't), it's not an entirely terrible movie. It can even come off as impressive and shocking. But fact of the matter is that both the mangas and an original film does exist. And you can't blame critics for trying to talk moviegoers out of watching it because it also simply isn't fair that a brilliant movie hasn't had the proper exposure it deserved. And an even more unfortunate truth is that foreign movies are often overlooked because viewers can't be fucked to read subtitles. Oldboy suffered from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo syndrome; a well-versed director taking on an originally brilliant foreign film and re-submitting a disappointingly mediocre English-spoken Hollywood imitation. Don't forget to cash in your cheque, Spike!


In an ideal world, I'd suggest skipping it altogether and watching the original instead. It would be sacrilegious not to. But if you must and don't care much for the foreign film, the movie is quite enjoyable on the big screen and you'll definitely get a kick out of it.

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