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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Pretty Bad: 35.29%
Total Crap: 11.76%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Oldboy (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"Better than expected. Of course, expected was "ill-conceived disaster"."
3 stars

Spike Lee's new movie exists because many people in America won't watch a Korean movie, which is a shame, because the 2003 version of "Oldboy" is one of several great movies Park Chan-wook has made in his native land. Still, as these things go, the American "Oldboy" isn't bad at all - close enough to get the appeal across, just different enough to be interesting.

In 1993, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), was a pretty lousy human being - a drunk of a deadbeat dad whose bad habits are about to overwhelm his skill as an advertising man. Before he can be fired, though, he disappears, waking up in what looks like a hotel room but is actually a private prison cell that will be his home for the next twenty years. When he is finally released, he's a fugitive, framed for the murder of his wife, although his old friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) takes him in, and with the help of a volunteer at a local free clinic (Elizabeth Olsen), he tracks down the man who held him prisoner (Samuel L. Jackson), though the one who paid to have it happen (Sharlto Copley) reveals himself, saying he will kill Joe's daughter unless Joe can figure out who he is and why he would do such a thing.

Oldboy has one of the greatest hooks in recent memory (it's no wonder the original Japanese comic serial has spawned three films), but it's still one that is going to seem unlikely, no matter how many real-world stories of people imprisoned for years show up on the news - and that's before you get to what happens when Joe gets out! At times, Mark Protosevich's script shows the strain that such an unlikely story can create, especially as it tries to avoid some of the more unlikely shortcuts that Park and original manga writer Garon Tsuchiya took. Mostly, Lee and Protosevich manage to find a vibe that's weird enough that this story can happen but real enough that its horrors can still strike home.

The two occasionally meet head-on, mostly in the performance of Josh Brolin. While he seems to be doing a sort of standard alcoholic prick during the film's prologue, the somewhat exaggerated mannerisms upon release are a decent mix of someone who is focused and angry but who has also only seen detective work and the twenty-first century on TV and doesn't really have the details down himself. He is, perhaps, a little too restrained, not enough of a contrast to Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Imperioli, although it means that when he's playing against Sharlto Copley, the audience can identify with Joe because he's not that insane.

And Copley, bless him, is taking the twisted madness inherent in his character and running with it, playing the role big enough that a not-exactly restrained Samuel L. Jackson comes off as a cruel but professional criminal entrepreneur in comparison. For all he can be justly accused of hamming it up, though, he's got moments when something tragic appears beside the evil cartoon. He fits in well with the occasionally surreal extra twists Lee and company have added to the previous versions, like the new weirdness in the hotel or the silent kung-fu-chick who serves as the villain's right hand.

Like Park Chan-wook before him, Spike Lee makes a film that's visually striking and well-told enough that it's not relying on tricks to be memorable. Sometimes it's very much like Park - Lee is practically obligated to recreate the Korean film's memorable hammer fight, and while he finds a way to put a bit of his own stamp on it (emphasizing its video game influences), it does emphasize to those of us have seen the other one how much of this movie is going down a list, even if important details are changed. Sometimes it's even for the better, though more often if's a conflict between a previous version that is weird/nasty/singular, a studio that wants something American/commercial, and a director with his own strong voice.

Because of that, it's not surprising to hear that Spike Lee's preferred cut is half an hour longer - this filmmaker and this material was never going to yield a mainstream hit. This cut is still fairly watchable; the right things are updated and what stays the same is stuff that works. That's success for a remake, although if you can come out of "Oldboy" satisfied, you've probably got broad enough taste to watch something with subtitles.

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originally posted: 12/10/13 14:48:33
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User Comments

1/19/17 danR Started out well enough, final third starts to flop around aimlessly until the reveal. 3 stars
2/14/14 Langano Pales in comparison. 3 stars
12/05/13 mr.mike Very mixed reaction, 3.5 stars. 3 stars
12/01/13 Timothy Welsh Seriously why does every movie need a remake?? Watch the original. 1 stars
11/30/13 Darkstar Absolutely pointless remake. Netflix the original. 1 stars
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  27-Nov-2013 (R)
  DVD: 04-Mar-2014

  06-Dec-2013 (18)

  27-Nov-2013 (MA)
  DVD: 04-Mar-2014

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