Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s 2003 Korean psychological thriller, “Oldboy”, was released last week, under the radar of many moviegoers. “Oldboy” tells the tale of Joe Doucette, an alcoholic ad executive in a distant relationship with his ex-wife and daughter. Joe wakes up one morning after a particularly intense night of drinking to find himself trapped in a windowless room fashioned to look like a room in a hotel with no idea why he is there or who took him. After going to the brink of insanity and back, Joe is able to break free of his imprisonment and wreaks havoc trying to find the people responsible for his torture and capture. The original movie was a psychological thriller that played with the mind and was very true to the traditions of Korean thrillers.
Spike Lee adds a much harsher edge to the film and throws away the last vestiges of realism to the events of the story, amping up the already substantial violence and putting Josh Brolin’s amazing acting ability to full use as the deranged and none too present Joe. After living on a diet of dumplings and having only a closed circuit television to keep him company for 20 years, Brolin’s character puts himself through an intense physical regiment reminiscent of the Spartans of 300. Coming back to the world a hardened man on a mission, Brolin tears through the seedy underworld in a mind bending and perception altering journey that often feels more like connected visions than scenes.
Holding true with the tradition of the story, Spike Lee does very little to alter the events and sticks reasonably close to the plot throughout the film. Some of the more twisted moments, including the octopus eating scene from the original movie, have been edited or deleted entirely. Most of this has probably been removed to make the movie more accessible to a western and broader audience. Lee does manage to create a perverse, sadomasochistic film that does nothing to insult the legacy of the “Oldboy” story. As the original movie is itself a remake of the Japanese manga comic book series, the story of “Oldboy” is one well known to its fans. This series of remakes leads some to question whether or not the movie needed to be made at all, while many fans rave about the action packed, cerebral experience.
Much of the movie is made up of violently gruesome scenes of Joe bashing men’s foreheads with hammers and at one point torturing Samuel. L. Jackson’s character, never failing to impress those looking for a gory movie experience. As Joe moves through the seedy underworld in order to find the people responsible for his torture, he comes to realize the true mystery may not be who captured him, but a greater one all together.
While Lee is able to take some brash and confident steps with his retelling, adding many moments of hyper-saturated colors and odd camera work as well as a fairly impressive urban soundtrack, he does very little to bring something new to the table. Remaking a movie that is in itself an adaptation of a comic series means that the story has gone through very little development since its inception. Spike Lee does a fairly good job adapting the movie to an American palette, but I am still asking whether or not the adaptation was necessary at all. Being that the movie is so closely tied to its predecessor means that many fans of the original will fail to see the importance of the remake.
For those who never saw Park Chan-Wook’s 2003 movie “Oldboy”, Spike Lee’s remake will come as an enjoyable, surreal, gory experience through the mind of a man who has been to hell and back and has the sole mission in life to find revenge.