Oldboy

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Director: Spike Lee.
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, James Ransone, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Lance Reddick, Richard Portnow, Linda Emond, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Hannah Ware, Hannah Simone, Ciera Payton, Elvy Yost.

Heaven make me free of it. The rest is silence.”

Park Chan Wook’s 2004 Korean original of “Oldboy” is one of the most visceral and emotionally devastating thrillers that you’re ever likely to find. As a result, it totally baffled me when I heard about the intentions for an English language remake. I don’t care how much of an impressive cast or crew were assembled, as far as I see it, there really isn’t anything else that could have been brought to treading this ground again. Now that I’ve seen Spike Lee’s version, I stand by that even more. This was a completely pointless exercise.

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Estranged husband and father Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is on a downward spiral with his alcohol problem. One drunken night he’s kidnapped from the streets and wakes up in a locked room with no windows and no means of communication. He’s held here without explanation, while on the outside he’s framed for the murder of his ex-wife. After 20 years in this locked room, he’s suddenly released and sets about finding out the truth and why he was held in the the first place.

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I’ll start with the (very few) positives this film has to offer and that simply comes down to Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. They are both on particularly fine form and give this misguided endeavour more than it actually deserves. The same can’t be said for the villains of the piece, though. Normally, the nasties are the one’s that stand out in a film of this type but in this case, it’s them that suffer the most in their caricature roles; Jackson is his usual self and (with that idiosyncratic tone of his) can make even the worst of dialogue work for him. He adds a requisite sprinkle of menace but he’s so elaborately overdressed that he looks like he’s just there to do a little turn on the catwalk. Copley, on the other hand, I feel both sorry and embarrassed for. He’s even more ridiculous. His accent and histrionics are so laughably bad and completely misplaced that he looks like he’s wandered in from a child’s pantomime. The only thing missing was an audience taking great delight in booing or hissing him off the stage. If Copley doesn’t get his act together soon, he’ll fade into obscurity and his wonderful work in “District 9” will be a thing of the past.

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The film itself looks the part, though, and Spike Lee almost gives the impression that he knows what he’s doing by capturing a suitably grim and foreboding atmosphere. However, it’s ultimately the script that lets everyone down here. It’s practically a scene-for-scene remake of the original (well, the good bits at least) but the changes that they do make to the story don’t improve it in the slightest. It really is perplexing why they would’ve even went to the bother and why such an acclaimed director and cast would put their reputations at stake.

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The scene that stood out for me was the ridiculous hallway fight (where Lee is obviously trying to emulate Park’s impressive handling of a similar one-take scene from the original). Here, Brolin takes on an abundance of adversaries and it’s obvious how badly choreographed it is. His opponents are absolutely nowhere near him as they swipe the air with pieces of plywood while our man sets about them with his claw hammer. It’s was around this point that I gave up on the whole affair, as it was apparent that the filmmakers were putting as much of an effort into the film as I am this review.

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With almost ten years between them, I can only assume that Hollywood thought this was ripe for a remake. It’s not! Granted, it might work a lot better for those that are unfamiliar with the original but for others, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it won’t. If it does appeal to those that are already versed in Park’s sublime original, then I’ll eat my claw hammer with a live Octopi chaser.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Joe (Josh Brolin) looks at a octopus swimming in a tank at a restaurant and walks away, which is a nod to the infamous octopus scene from the original “Oldboy” film.

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65 Responses to “Oldboy”

  1. Sounds laughable…

    A fucking octopus??

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    • I’m assuming you’ve see the original? If so, then there’s absolutely no reason to see this.

      Haha! Those fucking Octopi keep turning up don’t they? ;)

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      • I’ve seen some of it – I’ve never been really committed to the whole thing.

        They sure do, god damn them.

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  2. It’s an unnecessary remake, but not a terrible one. Just doesn’t really need to exist. Like at all. Good review Mark.

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  3. Why do people feel the need to remake an excellent movie? Excellent review Mark.

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    • The only thing that it stinks of is a money spinner, Vinnie. Sure, you could understand a little that they’re bringing these films to wider audience by translating them into English but of someone is damn lazy to attempt subtitles then that’s their loss. Thanks man!

      Like

  4. I haven’t been able to force myself to watch this because I loved the original. I feel like it will just make me angry.

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  5. daveackackattack Says:

    As someone who loved the original I won’t being seeing this. A lot of the foreign remakes of movies like Let The Right One In (Let Me In), Open Your Eyes (Vanilla Sky), the whole slew of J-Horror like The Grudge, Ringu, Dark Water, Pulse, The Eye etc. and of course Oldboy just don’t capture the feeling of the original films. Even films remade by their original creator like Funny Games and La Femme Nikita (Point of No Return) fall flat. There are exceptions like The Departed (Infernal Affairs) and Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (A Fistful of Dollars) but is seems these films are few and far between.

    Are there any foreign language films you thought were equal or better than their originals?

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    • For the most part, I’d tend to agree Dave. I’m not a big fan of remakes at all. I will say that I actually liked Vanilla Sky and Haneke’s American Funny Games, though, but it’s doubtful that I’d rate them any higher than the original. To be honest, I’m wracking my brain to think of any film that’s better than the original. I only watched Oldboy out of curiosity but I kinda want my time back now. Pointless! Just pointless!

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      • daveackackattack Says:

        Even the great David Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo was totally unnecessary.

        [SPOILER ALERT] The Funny Games remake didn’t work for me because of the name actors in it (Roth, Watts, Pitt). I get why he remade the film for American audiences… which was quite clever on his part… remaking a film that he wanted you to walk out and turn off and ask the question “what am I willing to sit through in the name of perceived entertainment?” The infamous rewind scene where he takes back the “happy” ending is just brilliant.

        Speaking of Vanilla Sky… I always thought it would have been funny if Penélope Cruz married Tom Cruse back when they were dating. Then her name would have phonetically stayed the same. Cruz to Cruise. LOL.

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      • I actually avoided the Dragon Tattoo remake. I just thought it was far too soon. I had only just completed the trilogy when Fincher released his version.

        I can understand your thoughts on the Funny Games cast. I’m not that big on Tim Roth but I do like Watts and I thought she was great in it. I also agree that Haneke’s decision to do an American one was a good idea. It almost seemed more fitting to me.

        Mrs P. Cruz-Cruise? LOL

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  6. I’m with CMrok93. Unnecessary but not an out-an-out terrible one. Brolin and Olsen are the strengths, and Copley is just wasted in a silly portrayal. I thought the sick twist was handled in an interesting variant, but I blame the studio more than Spike for hoisting this on us. Fine review, Mark.

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    • Again, that’s a fair assessment Michael. I’d probably have liked this more if I wasn’t familiar with the original. I totally agree that Brolin and Olsen done some fine work and Copley was very poor indeed. It’s a shame that Spike took this on as I’m normally a big fan of his films. I’d point the finger at the studio and the poor scriptwriter. Thanks my friend!

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  7. Great write-up sir, I pretty much heed your cautions and will stear clear of this. I also am not a big fan of Spike Lee anyway, so it’s much easier lol

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    • I normally do like Spike Lee but this is probably the most mainstream colour-by-numbers film, he’s ever done. It just wasn’t for me. I’d happily watch the original over this anytime. Cheers Tom!

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  8. I went to see this, actually, while it was in the theaters. Suddenly, I’m happy I didn’t.

    Great review, Mark!

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    • Yeah, it doesn’t really amount to much at all, Josh. I loved the original and this really doesn’t bring anything worthwhile to the table. It’s actually not a bad film but it’s completely unnecessary.

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  9. Pointless is the best word for this. And I agree, Sharlto Copley was awful!

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  10. Nice review. I wish Spike Lee would return to his roots and make another movie like Do The Right Thing or 25th Hour. His recent stuff has all been lacking and don’t have the feel as his older work.

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    • I’m not a fan of Lee’s recent movies either. Speaking of Do The Right Thing, though, I just rewatched that and hope to have a review out soon. Thanks buddy!

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  11. Interesting review. This is how I felt about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish version) and the American pointless clone of a movie. Ugh. Anyway, I love Josh Brolin and Spike Lee so I might throw some bucks away on this one just cause.

    I know, I’ve been warned. O_O

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  12. jackdeth72 Says:

    Hi, Mark:

    So, you have Brolin and Olsen. Sam Jackson and a bunch of second and third tier actors from the last seasons of HBO’s The Sopranos . Including a grown up Vinnie Del Pino (Max Casella) from Doogie Houser, MD in an overblown gore and hack and slash flick.

    With Octopi!

    And people wonder why American adaptations of foreign films don’t click?

    Like

    • Hey Jack,

      Yeah, The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli too. The cast here is actually decently assembled and most of them deliver fine work (with the exception of Copley). But, like you say, it just doesn’t click.

      Like

  13. Decided not to watch it as all the reviews I’ve read describe it as inferior, so no reason to check it out.

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  14. Top stuff mate. I have absolutely no desire to see this. The original is great and this joins the list of remakes that simply don’t need to exist!

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    • Cheers Chris. There isn’t any reason for this to exist. When will Hollywood ever learn? Saying that, why should they when these remakes are obvious cash cow’s for them…

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  15. You’ ve made my mind up. I’m not going anywhere near this. I love, love the original and would rather spend my time watching it again. What has happened to Copley? So good in District 9, then almost unwatchable in Elysium (although to be fair, that was a pretty unwatchable film).

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    • Yeah, steer clear of this Cathy. There’s really no reason to see it. Totally with you on Copley too. He’s absolutely dire in this film. I haven’t seen Elysium yet but I’m constantly hearing how poor he was in that too.

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  16. Nice write-up Mark. I’m definitely going to give this one the swerve. Thought Copley was terrible in Elysium – I don’t think bad guys are his forte at all.

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    • Cheers Stu. In all honesty, I had no interest in even writing this review. The film itself had already wasted my time. I haven’t seen Elysium yet but it would seem that Copley should avoid playing the bad guy for a bit. It’s just not working out, if this film is anything to go by. This is proper razzie award winning performance.

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  17. Haha, yeah, that hallway scene was a bit ridiculous, wasn’t it? Looked like something from an old school video game brawler, like Streets of Rage or something. :P

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  18. The most interesting thing about this film were Spike Lee’s interviews directly before and after the release. He’s such an outspoken guy, but he clearly phoned this one in. When a journalist would ask him a question, like:

    “Did you shoot the hallway fight in one take?”
    Lee: “Yep.”
    “Then why are their cuts in it?”
    Lee: “It’s a tough, tough business. That’s all I’m going to say.”

    … it makes me think that the studio offered Lee a lot of dough to direct the flick, and, in return, he did everything they told him. Such a bummer to see him compromise like that. This is in no way A Spike Lee Joint.

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    • Very interesting that you mention that Alex. If you’re aware of Spike Lee’s films but didn’t know who directed this, you’d never guess it to be him. There’s nothing to indicate that he had any influence here whatsoever. It’s a most certainly a studio deal. Cheers man.

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  19. Still baffled as to why Lee remade this. Man, he’s made some odd career moves. No real plans to see this if I’m honest. Brilliant work as always Mark.

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  20. I still find it so weird that they chose to remake this one, especially with the original still fresh in people’s memories. Haven’t seen Lee’s take yet but I’m also kinda happy it tanked and that it didn’t get too much attention.

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  21. Great review Mark. I haven’t seen the first one but this type of films are definitely not my cup of tea.

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    • I meant to say the original version.

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    • Understandable, Ruth. I’m a big fan of the original but with this one your not missing very much at all. To be honest, I couldn’t even really be bothered when it came to writing the review.

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      • Yeah I heard the original is much much superior.

        Btw, just posted a review of something that might be right up your alley. My blog friend & I are tag-teaming to review films from a local film fest right now :)

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      • Nice one, Ruth. I’ll try and swing by. I’m in the sticks just now so my reception is pretty dire but I’ll try jump over just now! :)

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  22. I’m a big fan of the original and of Spike so I’ll still give this a whirl at some point. From everything I’ve read about it I’m not sure if he actually phoned it in or just had his hands tied after accepting the gig. Apparently, his original cut was a 3 hour picture but the studio made him chop it down to whatever this is. Might be where the “tough business” qoute comes from. For what it’s worth Brolin has said he likes the director’s cut much better. Haven’t heard if there are any plans for it to see the light of day, though.

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    • Yeah, I’d heard about the 3 hour cut and that Brolin prefers Spike’s version. Who knows, man? It’s sounding more and more that Spike’s hands might have been tied on this one.

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  23. Not much stars, but the poster seems promising……

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  24. Great review, as usual, but I think I’ll pass. I love Broslin. Let’s hope he makes better decisions regarding scripts.

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  25. Excellent review Mark. I think our views on this one are pretty close. Apart from the film being pointless and inferior remake to the Parks original, it is just a pretty shoddy film on its own merit too.

    Like

    • Cheers buddy. Yeah, I just felt like I was wasting my time with this one. I do like the cast normally and I’m also partial to Spike Lee but this really didn’t bring much to the table and done their reputations no good at all.

      Like

  26. spencerfsu15 Says:

    Liked the original. From the trailers, this looked good, but maybe that’s because I’m a big Josh Brolin fan. This review is making my second guess viewing it.

    Like

    • I’m a big fan of Brolin too and I wouldn’t fault him here but the film itself is completely forgettable if you’ve already seen the original. If I were you, I’d save yourself the time. Thanks for the comment though, man. Appreciate it :)

      Like

  27. You exited at the right time, Mark. The ending was so incredibly over the top in a horrible, horrible way that I pretty much don’t respect Sharlto Copley anymore. Plus, Spike softened the landing and completely undercut the tone of the original and his own film. A crap re-make if ever there was one. Good review.

    Like

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