Hey gang, Valkor here. Remakes of very popular films are a very tricky subject matter; just an announcement of one and finding out all the players involved could make or break said film long before its released. Take Oldboy for instance, an amazing Korean thriller with an ending that will send you reeling. It was initially supposed to be directed by Steven Spielberg, with Will Smith in the starring role; given the family-oriented nature of the two parties, fans (including myself) of the Korean original sounded off in the worse and harshest way. But both reins were handed over to Spike Lee and Josh Brolin; now this changes things as given the nature of the film, you’ve got two parties who can bring that “edge” the film needs. And after watching the Oldboy remake, I can honestly say the film isn’t as bad as I would have thought, but if you haven’t seen the original, you would be doing yourself a great injustice passing it up. Some spoilers, but just a little.
Oldboy, much like the Korean original, follows the life of Joe Ducet (Brolin), an advertising agent and all around dick extreme who partakes heavy on the sauce, is suddenly kidnapped off the streets and held captive for 20 years in what appears to be a hotel room. His only link to the outside world is a television in his room and a special window that shows the changes of the day. During his captivity, he’s framed for the rape/murder of his ex-wife and his only daughter is given up for adoption. He’s able to watch her grow through an investigative series that keeps track of unsolved murder mysteries. After being held for 20 years, he’s suddenly set free, left in a suitcase out in an open field, with money, new clothes and a mobile that has a countdown clock on the face. The phone with the clock doesn't make much sense at first, especially the clock, however Joe will soon learn that it becomes a link to the very person who had him imprisoned. And now he has to look back into his past, into all of his misdeeds to find the guy who put him in that 20 year hell hole and find out why they did it to him.
If you’ve watched the original and had/have any interest in seeing the remake, then you’ll find a lot has changed but some things remain the same. One of the biggest changes is how the film ultimately ends; again if you’ve seen the original, it’s still the same outcome (some things differ) however the events that happen afterwards changes, which I think is for the better.
I should know better than to doubt the directorial skills of Spike Lee; the man can do edgy for days and his last film – Red Hook Summer, is very preachy, but very compelling and but it shows Spike knows how to handle controversial subject matter. So on the one hand, I know Spike would do the the film justice, but on the other hand, the original Oldboy is just so good that it would be hard to top/replace.
For what it’s worth, the Oldboy remake wasn’t as bad as I would have expected, in fact it’s almost as good as the original, doing just enough to stand out on its own, yet keeping enough in for fans of the original to appreciate. I really enjoyed it way more than I had expected; I thought the tone of the original is kept intact, so you have that dark and moody vibe throughout, but there’s more unintentional comical moments as well. Prime example is when Sam Jackson’s character takes the scene and you know this brother knows how to chew up a scene. No hate, he brings a nice dose of humor to an otherwise bleak and dreary film. The new film also solves the problem of pacing – this is both good and bad, but the good is that you get a much faster-paced film that still packs in just the right amount of detail to get the point across. The ending still has an impact, though not much of a surprise since watching the original; however there are a lot of changes towards the buildup of the reveal that I consider acceptable. Whilst there were many changes, some things remain the same. And one scene I was concerned with was the Hammer scene; you know that one-take hammer beatdown that Oh Dae-su gives to the bad guys? Well it’s kept intact and pretty much shot for shot the same, except it plays out faster, with some elements of the original tossed in. There are also some nice Easter eggs tossed in that fans of the original can point out such as the angel wings and the octopus (he doesn’t eat it). The acting is top notch and Josh Brolin, while he does ham it up a bit, still puts on a splendid performance as Joe Ducet, even going so far as mimicking some of the mannerisms of Min-sik Choi’s “Oh Dae-su”. Joe’s counterpart, Marie Sebastian played by Elizabeth Olsen, again a fine performance and a fine body as well (yep she does get naked). I can't wait to see her as "The Scarlet Witch" in the second Avengers movie. Finally, I mentioned Samuel Jackson earlier, and he does what he does best – he’s just an onscreen bad ass and always so much fun to watch! As much as I wanted to be disappointed with this Oldboy remake, there’s just too much going for it that makes it so hard to hate.
I mentioned above the pacing that’s both good and bad. The good, we get a faster paced film. However the bad is that a lot of the film’s impact is lost. When I first watch the original, the slow pacing is what almost made me turn it off - not just myself but many others as well who have watched it. But once you watch the film to completion you see why the film takes its time, because the payoff is tremendous; you truly become immersed and invested into the characters and Oh Dae-su’s plight that when the reveal happens… it’s jawdropping! With the new film, we keep the same pacing at the start, but from then on things move at a much faster pace; so the payoff is still amazing, but not as explosive. Finally, I didn’t care too much for Sharlto Copley’s Adrian (the main baddie); I don’t blame him 100% as a huge chunk of that goes out to whoever wrote his character the way they did. I mean did you see the original? Did you see how much of a bad ass villain Ji-tae Yu’s “Woo-jin Lee” was? He was creepy, maniacal, just the ultimate bad guy who did his best work behind the scenes. In this new film, Adrian… is just a dick. Yea… that’s about it really.
What happens to Sam Jackson’s character when Joe gets his hands on him. OUCH!!!
Oldboy, the remake, gets a Blu-Ray release on March 4th and if you’ve never seen the original (maybe you don’t like subtitles?), or if you’ve already seen it but have some reserves about the remake, then I’m here to tell you, it’s worth seeing. It doesn’t have the same buildup or intensity as the original, but it contains enough that it remains faithful to the original, but changes things up a bit that it feels fresh and new. And out of TOV 5 stars, this new Oldboy gets a 4.