05th Apr2014

‘Oldboy’ DVD Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Sharlto Copley, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone | Written by Mark Protosevich | Directed by Spike Lee


Oldboy is a movie that has a huge question hanging over it.  It’s a shame really that the question has nothing to do with the plot, but rather the issue of just why was it needed? Are we too lazy to read subtitles or do we just feel the original movie could have been done better? The answer was probably that it was a way to just make more money.  You may find that answer cynical but after watching Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy you’ll realise it is true, but also have a strange feeling that it was actually a good movie.

Joe Doucett (Brolin) is an ass, a drunken ass at that.  When he finally annoys the wrong person he ends up being held hostage in a solitary confinement type situation for 20 years.  When released his aim is to find out who imprisoned him and why.  With his reputation blackened by being set up for his wife’s death and his daughter somewhere out in the world he also has a glimmer of hope of salvaging his former life, a task Marie Sabastian (Olsen) a volunteer who helps the homeless tries to help him with.

The first thing that will strike you as odd about Oldboy is the main credits state that this is a movie based on the original Chan-wook Park version of the movie.  To not annoy people who already saw this as a waste of time remake, why throw it in their faces? The better move would have been to state this is a movie based on the original source, but no…this movie wants you to remember just what it is ripping up and redoing.

So now the question has to be answered, is this a good movie? Well the fact is if you could forget about the original, this version of Oldboy would be a brash in your face look at revenge and redemption and would probably be called a good movie, in fact I like it a lot even with its flaws, but it is not a good remake.

The first thing that hits you is that Josh Brolin’s Joe Doucett is a more extreme and unlikable version of Mn-sik Choi’s Dae-su Oh, he has to do everything he can to remind us that he is not a nice person.  Through his years of incarceration by the unseen force he also has to be reminded again and again about his family and what he has lost, and taught by kung fu movies how to fight.  There is a shallow feeling to this, especially when he gets out and the first thing he does is to get in a fight with some thugs, taking them down in an overly violent movie style.  I can see what it is trying to do, but for Oldboy it is just too far.  Then we get to the almost iconic corridor fight scene which was so good in the original.

When Dae-su Oh takes part in that fight scene it is done in such a way as to remind the audience that this is just an ordinary man, but a man who takes extraordinary amounts of punishment to find the answers that he desires.  Brolin’s Joe Doucett takes part in a kung fu battle where he kicks major ass, and does it in style.  This is the point where I realised that the remake just doesn’t understand the character of “Oldboy” and I admit, I really thought I was going to give up on having hope for it.  To do that though would be a mistake, because that would be ignoring the characters that surround Joe Doucett.

Samuel L. Jackson is an actor who can play eccentric characters well, he has that charisma that makes them almost jump off the screen, grab you by the neck and make sure you are paying attention.  His character Chaney is the controller of the establishment used to imprison people for a price.  In the original this character was enigmatic and extravagant, and it’s obvious that Jackson’s answer to this is to be his usual larger than life self.  He plays the character exactly how is needed, and we hate him so job done.  You can’t help but like Samuel L. Jackson when he is at his most insane, and this is a good example of one of his insane characters.

It’s hard to talk about Elizabeth Olsen’s character Marie Sebastian without giving away huge spoilers, though if you’ve seen the original you already know the spoiler.  Olsen is a very good actor, and in Oldboy you buy into her likable persona as the woman who volunteers her life away to help others, even to the point that it makes her the victim.  Josh Brolin is not a bad actor and he plays the character of Joe Doucett well, the chemistry between him and Olsen is what grounds the second half of the movie at a level that in fact brings out its best qualities.  A lot of this comes from the talented performance of Olsen, she was a very good pick for this role.

The Stranger is the character behind it all, and in the original he is a man who appears to be just the normal stranger in the street.  As the movie progresses we get to see his darker side and the enigma is created that makes us question just who he is? It’s a subtle approach that makes him a slow burning menace to the character of Dae-su Oh.  Sharlto Copley’s version of the character is anything but subtle.  As soon as he enters the scene his strange European accent is very jarring to the movie, but this is the point.  At first I thought the over acting would be annoying, but in truth it’s not overacting what it is in fact is probably the best character of the film who has to be outlandish to his surroundings to have the desired effect.  He is the “Devil” in Joe Doucett’s Hell, there to strip away all hope and humanity from the man and to hold the key to the mystery that is Oldboy.

The Stranger has all the answers, and he won’t give them up until the conclusion of his story.  The fact that we the audience who have seen the original know what is coming does not actually weaken the effect of the revelation, we dread it coming.  I’d argue that this version of Oldboy actually shows how good an actor Sharlto Copley is and he really turned the movie around for me to make it actually interesting.

The fact is, I know many people won’t like to accept it but Oldboy is a good movie.  It is flawed and has moments of supreme stupidity, but it still manages to be good.  Is it a good remake? No, and the fact it almost unashamedly tries to flaunt its remake status is in many ways its undoing.  Oldboy as a remake is made in a way that shows a lack of understanding of the source material.  If you state this is based on the original movie, there should be an attempt to fully understand what that movie was aiming for.  Spike Lee doesn’t want to have a well thought out remake of Chan-wook Park’s version, he wants you to see his own brash in your face Americanised version of the work which is something that Oldboy should never be.  It’s just a shame that he didn’t seem to understand the subtleties of the source material, but if he did then why would he have agreed to do the remake at all?

Oldboy is out on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7th. For a different perspective on the film, check out this open letter to Spike Lee (director of the Oldboy remake).

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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