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Oldboy (2013) – Review – movieScope

Oldboy (2013) – Review

Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is such a frantic, oddly funny, off kilter rampage of a film, and held in such high regard, it’s hard to understand why anyone would take on the American remake. With Spike Lee at the helm however, it at least had the promise of being a little more politically charged than the original twisty South Korean thriller. Unfortunately, though, what begins as an atmospheric and woozy descent into madness loses its edge quite quickly.

The story remains the same; alcoholic advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is snatched away from society and locked up for 20 years without explanation. On release, he searches for his anonymous captor with revenge on his mind.

Fans of the original may find this remake a drag; twists and turns lifted from the original come as no surprise, with Lee’s only stamp being to make a comment on celebrity gossip, media and tabloid reportage. Lee does also add interesting visual flourishes; that Doucett is locked up in a room made to look like a 1920s hotel with a picture of an African-American bellboy adorning the wall asking ‘What Can We Do To Improve Your Stay?’ being one such neat touch. While Doucett is incarcerated, Brolin excels in this one man act, at first giving up and then finding strength, his physicality and tortured expressions make for absorbing viewing and his hallucinations of said bellboy munching on popcorn gives food for thought.

Interesting ideas sadly get tuned out once Doucett is released from solitary confinement; Lee and fellow screenwriter Mark Protosevich stick quite closely to the narrative of Chan-wook’s film, which inevitably strips away the element of surprise. They do add in the occasional variant such as the villain (Sharlto Copley) now having a female bodyguard—albeit a scantily clad one—but mostly waste any opportunity to properly define their Oldboy. Copley is in full pantomime act here, taking the maniacal to the ridiculous, and he’s difficult to take seriously. Indeed, at what should be the most stomach-churning moment of the film, his performance takes away any impact.

Despite some excellent performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Brolin, and the addition of a particularly gruesome scene between the two, Lee’s Oldboy simply pales in comparison to the original making it quite disappointing viewing.

3 stars



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