I’m against pointless, English language remakes. If anything I find it insulting to the original for a director to believe they can replicate or better a foreign language movie by casting more internationally known actors and changing the language. In most of these cases, the director doesn’t even bother to make changes worthy of the remake or improve on any aspects of the film that could have been considered faults. Fortunately, Oldboy isn’t one of these such cases and Spike Lee does make changes that improve the film. In creating these changes though, he may just have ruined what made the film so memorable in the first place.
For starters, it builds the character of Joe Doucett, Min-Sik Choi’s central hero in the original, in a much longer, drawn out and developed way. Josh Brolin gets chance to really build the nasty side of his character and demonstrate how he manages to annoy, irritate and anger enough people that someone would undertake the unbelievable punishment that befalls him.
This aspect is the same too but again, just developed a little more. The TV programs have a larger impact, the moment with the mice and it’s babies add to the heartache and the evil of whatever is happening to Doucett. It remains that same mystery and in some cases, the room, his spiralling madness and the transformation, are all done in a more effective, believable and less rushed way.
In fact, this is the major positive of the film. It trims the excess. It tells the Oldboy story in a much more streamlined, focused way. It builds the imprisonment well so that when the freedom does finally come, we are much more invested. It then throws Brolin’s character into the main investigation with little in the way of red herrings or convoluted backstory and exposition.
The key action scene, the corridor with the hammer, is probably a more complex version this time but does link and recognise it’s predecessor nicely. Brolin is very good as the man possessed and looking for answers and when he finally confronts Samuel L Jackson’s Chaney, you are fully rooting for him to be very nasty.
It’s a shame that this doesn’t necessarily translate to other characters. Elizabeth Olson has such a huge part to play in the movie and the finale relies on her character having a certain innocence and naivety to her that just doesn’t translate. The way in which Hye-jeong Kang brought her character to the screen, with her interactions with Choi, meant the shock twist stung much more and had more impact. Olson is miscast purely because of the way the finale plays out.
The same can be said for a wasted Sharlto Colpey. He is a fine villain and the perfect amount of crazy but his version of the same punishment from the original adds new, too elaborate levels to the scheme that stretches suspension of disbelief just a little too far.
It is strange position because Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake is clearly trying to better the original. In some cases it manages it, with a more streamlined story, better action scenes and a Brolin with proper character development. Unfortunately, the moment when it really matters that things run perfectly, that amazing final twist, the story becomes over-complicated to try to distance itself.
Overall, Oldboy does so much to improve upon the original that it takes one step too far. Brolin is a good casting choice and Lee manages to convey the imprisonment, the action and the mystery afterwards in a much more focused manner. Unfortunately, messing too much with the ending and casting poorly make the best aspect of the film slightly too unbelievable.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)