The second part of our “remake double feature” is Oldboy.
I dig Spike Lee. I’ve basically been down with Spike from the beginning, though I was clearly too young to be watching She’s Gotta Have It. I’ve grown to appreciate the type of filmmaker that he is.
He can make a studio picture. He can also make a personal film. He’s also made a few “message” films. But the beauty of Spike Lee is that you know what your in for, depending on the hat that he’s wearing.
So where does Oldboy fit?
First things first, I’m a fan of the original Oldboy film. I’m also one of the lucky ones who didn’t have someone else spoil the film for me. But that doesn’t mean the ending was still tainted for me. Let me explain.
As I was watching the original and the point of revenge was, pardon the pun, hammered home, my mind began to wander. This frequently happens when I’m watching something or even reading prose; part of my brain clicks on and begins to put together how I would have shot that scene, introduced that character, finished that sentence.
It’s a curse in that I’ll invariably ruin a twist that happens later in the movie. And that’s what happened with Oldboy. I was thinking “you know what would be a sick revenge…” and that’s essentially what ended up taking place. I can only imagine how powerful the reveal is if it completely blindsides you. Oh well.
As for the American remake, it’s a tricky proposition. Spike Lee’s Oldboy isn’t bad, it’s just ok. The story doesn’t really deviate from the original film, there are just minor tweaks to details. Enough to say things are different, but not enough to declare any sort of originality.
I’m a fan of Elizabeth Olsen, after discovering her during last year’s Movie Week. She doesn’t really have that much to do in this film. Her character doesn’t really have an arc or a journey, she’s really just part of Josh Brolin’s journey. But she does fine with what she’s given.
Brolin is completely believable as Joe Doucett. You believe he’s the loutish jerk who would hit on someone’s wife while he’s in the bathroom. He’s equally believable in the action sequences, which are expertly staged.
Speaking of the staging, Spike does a good job directing. He’s not really known for action, which makes the action sequences all the more impressive. Spike frames interesting shots and manages to tell the story without unnecessary distractions. It’s not really a showy movie, but there are still some signature Spike Lee shots.
I totally get what Oldboy’s critics say about the movie. It’s not great. But I think that it’s firmly adequate. It’s only sin is really not being original enough, which is a weird thing to say about an remake of a foreign film.
On a personal note I think it would have been interesting if Oldboy took the same basic story of the original, but instead focused on the dual themes of revenge and imprisonment. I think the cost of revenge would be an intriguing thing to lay into the story. Also the dehumanization of imprisonment and the adjusting to life in society would be something that could have been explored.