In 2003, South-Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park released a brilliant film adaptation of the cult graphic novel “Oldboy” (Oldeuboi). The film was an exceptional, yet disturbing tale of vengeance and tragic love. Since its release, the film has gone on to become a cult classic and is often considered to be one of the greatest modern film-noirs of the last decade and one of the best Asian films of all time. Inevitably, Hollywood commissioned a remake, with renowned indie director Spike Lee at the helm…
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story of Oldboy, the plot revolves around a man who is inexplicably kidnapped and retained in a mysterious hotel room for 20 years with no contact with the outside world, other than through television. The name of the fore mentioned man in this remake is Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) an unsympathetic and alcoholic advertising executive who lives a miserable and meaningless life. We first encounter Joe in 1993 as he drunkenly stumbles around town after he fails to secure a major deal for the company he represents. It is clear from the opening 10 minutes that Joe doesn’t make many friends and this made evident when we then find him wake up in a solitary room in which he spends the next 20 years in. Following a montage which explores Joe’s psychological state caused by isolation, Joe is then released and he sets outs to avenge those responsible, not only for his kidnapping, but the rape and murder of his estranged wife.
There are positives to find within Spike Lee’s remake: The 20 year montage is cleverly intercut with clips of important events from each yeah; Josh Brolin is solid as Doucette, a lost and angry man looking for redemption through vengeance. However, the biggest problem with Spike Lee’s film is one which is common with most Hollywood remakes: It lacks its own original style. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” expertly demonstrated how an American remake can justify its purpose of being made by incorporating a different style and different elements whilst still maintaining the core story of the original.
Whilst not being a complete disaster of a film, Spike Lee’s “Oldboy” still suffers from a dull screenplay and a genuine lack of style and substance.