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Oldboy (2013)

D: Spike Lee / 104m

Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond

There are times when you just know that the phrase “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is going to apply to an upcoming remake or sequel, and that what will eventually hit cinemas – if the movie’s that lucky (or has enough money behind it) – is going to be as disappointing as sunbathing during an eclipse.  It’s a very rare remake indeed that comes out as well as the original, and that’s mostly because those originals are lightning-in-a-bottle moments.  From Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised and unexpectedly dull shot-for-shot remake of Psycho (1998) to the current vogue for remaking what seems like every horror movie from the Eighties, remakes are the lazy filmmaker’s way of keeping busy.  And so it proves with Oldboy, Spike Lee’s remake of Chan-wook Park’s modern classic.

Oldboy (2013) - scene

Even with Lee and writer Mark Protosevich saying they’ve gone back to the original manga that Park based his movie on, this version still fails on so many levels.  The main character, Joe Doucett (played with his usual intensity by Brolin) is unlikeable from the start, so any sympathy we might have for him is dispensed with before he’s even held captive.  There’s a cartoonish performance from Samuel L. Jackson as chief gaoler Chaney that comes complete with blond ponytail and which sits at odds with the rest of the performances, and the tone of the movie as a whole.  When Joe meets Marie (Olsen) she gives him her number almost straight away in case he needs any help; yes, she’s an aid worker but would she really do that (but then how would the rest of the movie develop if she didn’t)?

The villain of the piece is played with pantomime bravura by Copley, and the only thing that’s missing from his performance is a bit of moustache-twirling (his vocal styling is quite irritating too).  The sequence where Joe takes on Chaney’s goons with just a hammer now looks over-rehearsed and lacks any visceral quality.  And the revelation of why Joe has been released is given a mock-opera makeover that resists any emotional engagement by the viewer because, in the set up, it appears that Copley’s character is able to install surveillance equipment wherever Joe goes and in advance of his knowing he’s going there.

In short, the movie relies on contrivance after contrivance and gives the viewer nothing to connect with.  As a reinterpretation (which sounds more like prevarication than anything else), Oldboy ends up being like a mime interpreting a song: you wonder what was the point.

Rating: 5/10 – proficient on a technical level with excellent photography courtesy of Sean Bobbitt, Oldboy strips away the cultural depth of Chan’s version and gives us nothing in return; even judged on its own merits it’s still a movie that doesn’t work.