Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Oldboy, the spectacular 2003 South Korean film, which in turn was a film adaptation of the 1996 Japanese manga of the same name, has received an American remake. The classic 2003 film wasn't just a direct adaptation of the manga, but rather bettered it in even way imaginable. Headlined by Choi Min-sik, who readers may know from the 2010's excellent I Saw The Devil, Oldboy was the second instalment of The Vengeance Trilogy; a trilogy by director Park Chan-Wook that also comprised of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. It has since become a modern classic with many of the scenes from the film being hailed as iconic, most notably a scene in which the main character defends himself against a horde of bad guys only wielding a hammer. The fantastic one-shot scene is both violent and jaw droopingly awesome, and has become the first scene people think of when they think of Oldboy. But what about the new American Oldboy?

So while 2003's Oldboy was literally perfect, Hollywood have done the very Hollywood thing and have remade it. Yes, the hammer scene is there. Yes, they haven't changed that twist. But while it retains plenty of what made the original so damn good, it has lost so much more. Directed by Spike Lee and starring John Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, Oldboy is a mess of a film, and a film that shouldn't really exist. Oldboy opens in 1993 and over the course of the film spans 20 years. In 1993 an unknown assailant knocks Joe Doucett unconscious. Upon waking, Joe finds himself in a locked hotel room, and he quickly figures out that he has been kidnapped.

Only given basic meals that are provided through a shutter on a locked door, basic hygiene facilities and a TV in his room, Joe faces life as a caged animal. However, after seeing on the news that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife and that his daughter has been adopted, he works out, quits drinking, watches boxing matches to help train himself, and spends the next 20 years planning his revenge. Though escaping was always on his mind, in 2013 Joe is knocked out and finds himself in a box in a field. With nothing but a cellphone on him, Joe must find out who kept he captive for 20 years and quite literally destroyed his life. As I said, the story doesn't differ that much from its South Korean counterpart, but because it's so nearly identical narratively, this version of Oldboy is just unnecessary. 

What's missing here is the humanity and weighted performances of the South Korean version. Don't get me wrong, Brolin is a great actor in his own right, but while Choi Min-sik portrayed his character in a nuanced manner of a guy who has lost everything, Brolin's Joe sometimes comes across as if someone merely short-changed him when buying milk. There's no gravity to his performance, which ultimately should have been what they were aiming for. Also, this extends to most of the other cast too, in particular Sharlto Copley, an actor I'm quite a fan of but who comes across as if he's phoning in a performance. 

But should Spike Lee's Oldboy be compared to Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy? I think so. Why? Because, while it does diverge in some elements, it is painfully similar to the original. I got the same feeling when I watched Predators, a film that pays way too much homage to the original film, Predator. Because it was trying to be the exact same film, it kind of made itself redundant. As I watched this remake of Oldboy it just made me want to watch the original, better version. So, for me, and many others I'd imagine, this remake is just completely unneeded, and is destined to live in the South Korean versions proud shadow.

If this were an original creation it would be viewed in a much more positive light. But it's not. It's an ultimately worthless remake of a film that is a near perfect film experience. It takes the emotional sub-text of the original and subtracts it, re-films the best scenes into soulless imitations and doesn't do much better than what was expected of it. Unneeded, unwanted and will only make you want to watch the original again.

Oldboy is nowhere near as good as its South Korean counterpart and gets a 2/5.


Denis Murphy

Oldboy at CeX

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