40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, OB Prod, Vertigo Ent, US
UK Release: 6th December, 2013
DIR Spike Lee
EXEC Nathan Kahane, Kim Dong-joo, John Powers Middleton, Peter Schlessel
PROD Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Spike Lee
SCR Mark Protosevich, Garon Tsuchiya, Nobuaki Minegishi
DP Sean Bobbitt
CAST Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson
Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a cult classic that navigated the globe after it was picked up by Tartans home video distribution label, Asia Extreme. It created a surge of other South Korean and Asian titles to be sought out and appreciated by Western audiences. It indulged ‘fanboys’ to traverse the Asian market and become further engrossed in the movies abilities to shock audiences. Why was Oldboy so enthralling? Because it’s a badass movie (as Quentin Tarantino would say), and because it is a masterpiece that is interminable. I think you can see where my approach to this review is heading; I’m just building up some steam. A masterpiece of great fixation shouldn’t and can’t be remade. I will try and approach this review as if it weren’t a remake, a grave challenge indeed. However, otherwise my review would simply read: an utter waste of everyone’s time, go and watch the original or get some sleep. 1 star.
Some critics have taken mixed approaches to the film however, though most say “it’s got no kick to it” (Peter Travers), “it’s just drab” (Michael Phillips), which is the common consensus that I can very much agree to, if we compare it with the original. However, critics like Bruce Ingram for the Sun-Times call the film a “vengeful, respectable homage to a cult favourite.” Ingram then talks through the story in a step-by-step review for people who have most likely never seen the film before; he makes no reference to the original in doing so. So, are we sure it’s respectful Bruce? Lying somewhere in between but just under the surface, I can appreciate the effort: the impressively groomed performance by Josh Brolin in the lead and Lee’s creative homage to various scenes, such as the hallway fight scene, the cctv operator torture scene and the passionate love-making scene (though, the fight choreography and suspense was laughable in comparison).
The overall twist of Oldboy is there; in fact it is made slightly more complex than it should be thanks to screenwriter Mark Protosevich trying to be too clever. It doesn’t hit you as hard as it does with Chan-wook’s. The timing of events is all off and some of it superfluous, which offsets the entire themes of misfortune and revenge at play, which are so essential to the film. If I hadn’t seen the original, my mind would be all over the place, the new script crams a fresh backstory and key plot signifiers into one solo act. Then it’s all over. This reminds me, the film felt extended (never a good sign), as if I was sat there for over three hours. Yet, to my surprise, the film was only 100 minutes long. It’s a mystery as to how Lee crammed all that rustle and hustle into under two hours (the length of the original). I didn’t realize I was that disconnected, what a drag.
The film will have some appeals for mainstream audiences however, with Samuel L. Jackson putting in a “mother-fucker” line here and there and the newly acclaimed young actress Elizabeth Olson looking delightful. Of course, the crime, the violence, the action, the muscle man and the emotional pain will always satisfy ‘fan-boy’ audiences and those seeking a bit more from their cinema outing. Lets not forget, that despite its baloney, this film is a big achievement for Hollywood. They are letting loose and firing an ostentatious canon cross the world, at least it is opening more eyes to national cinema cultures. Two of my friends are now seeking out the original because they liked the movie, bravo.
Spike Lee is an artist of variation, a stylistic dicer, a respectable director. But, this film needs Park Chan-wook at the helm. Park’s demanding, rigorous and intensely prim visual style simply can’t be matched.
Watch the trailer below: