Spike Lee's remake of the classic 2003, Korean film, Oldboy takes away the mystery, creepiness, and beauty that the original brought to the big screen. Instead this film becomes a stripped down mess with its themes, violence, and story subdued for an American audience.
This film cannot be tackled as a stand alone movie from the original. How can you remake a classic? Spike Lee doesn't know the answer. From camera shots, casting, and story, nothing seems to work. As a drunker, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is locked away in a hotel room prison for 20 years. He is then mysteriously released and with the help of a seemingly random woman (Elizabeth Olsen), he makes it his mission to learn who imprisoned him and why. It's not a simple concept, but somehow Spike Lee foolishly strips the complexity away to bring this dull story. Spike Lee doesn't add anything, but subtracts so much from the original, from the violence to the themes, nothing holds up properly. The fight scenes are poorly choreographed and shot, including the famous hammer-scene. A one shot scene trying to distinguish itself and draw away from the original. During this fight, it was noticeable at every angle that the punches and kicks weren't hitting home. Spike Lee, or the producers, were being too safe. Brolin barely got a scratch, and near the end of the fight it seemed that the director almost forgot the nod to the original. It was poorly placed with a man running and stabbing Brolin in the back, then running off screen. This fight also suffered from one attacker attacking Brolin before another attacker came up. There were a good 5-6 guys fighting Brolin. It would have been nice to see them all gang up on him. Instead it became dull very quick.
Josh Brolin played his character great. There was always a sense of fear and vengeance in his actions and his facial expressions never failed to show it. On the other spectrum, Elizabeth Oslen was miscast as the role of Brolin's lover. There was never chemistry between the two leads. Every scene where Olsen would touch or speak to Brolin felt awkward and out of place. Olsen's character is too mature and smart to be hanging around Brolin. You never got a sense on why she was helping Brolin. Sure, there was dialogue between the two, but the script feed the audience one liners in hopes that we would believe there was a connection. Spike Lee decided to keep certain aspects of the original film in place and decided to throw away major character development. One surprise, as usual, was Sharlto Copley as the villain Adrian Price. Copley stole every scene he was in. Copley was given the best lines and best scenes, and tried bringing depth to a one dimensional character.
Another major problem that plagued the story was the use of modern technology. It was interesting to watch this film and the main character tackle the onset of new technology, but technology made everything easier for the main characters. The film lost its mystery and fell flat during any detective work Brolin would accomplish. It was as simple as looking up information on a computer.
What made the original so grand and beautiful in storytelling was the cinematography and the first person narrative. The remake very loosely follows the same narrative perspective, which causes for too much exposition. And the cinematography falls apart for being too clean for a gritty film. During the hotel prison sequence, the audience is given too much information on Brolin's situation. Every shot in the film is brightly lit and generically shot, losing any excitement these scenes might have carried. Then, the third act falls apart. You just can't believe the elaborate game Copley's character sets up for Brolin. Too much implausibility occurs, from cameras in motel rooms to a made-up television show set, you can only guess how much luck Copley needed for all this to happen the way it did. The ending cements how the American movie industry is scared for its life when it comes to risks. The audience receives an underwhelming and cowardly ending wherein Brolin is suddenly freed from everything that has occurred and accepts his fate. The original film broke the character's psyche to where he was barely sane near the end, but Brolin, through all his alcoholism, seclusion, and vengeance, stays unbroken. It was truly unbelievable to watch, and shameful for the filmmakers to give an unnecessary and sloppy ending.
Tragically, this remake simplifies everything that made the original a masterpiece. Dullness from the fight scenes to the story plagued the film from start to finish. Sure, it was interesting to see how a classic would be remade, but it ended at interesting. If you want to watch the original Oldboy, it is on Netflix. I suggest you do so instead of spending money to watch this remake.
Good Qualities: Sharlto Copley and Josh Brolin were great.
Bad Qualities: The story, fight choreography, ending, and chemistry between characters.