In the same way sequels and book adaptations rarely live up to their original source, remaking classics films for new audiences, and in this case a new country, hardly seems worth the effort anymore.
In 2003, Park Chan-wook put forth an incredibly visceral film called "Oldboy." The film itself was loosely based on the Japanese manga of the same name. Released in South Korea, it took audiences into a dark world of revenge with original story reversals and plot turns rarely seen in this genre of cinema. It soon became a cult hit and less than ten years later was being sought after for a remake by Will Smith and Steven Spielberg. Though, Spielberg's aim was to base the new film off the original manga and not a remake. Eventually, the deal fell apart and Spike Lee stepped in.
The 2013 release of "Oldboy" is not without its merits. Mr. Lee gives us his signature visual style, high moments of tension and incredibly directed performances. However, what's missing is anything new. With the exception of time and place, the plot never strays far from the source.
When Joe (Josh Brolin) is kidnapped and held captive, he finds out he has been framed for the rape/murder of his ex-wife and that his daughter, Mia, has been adopted. Forced to live in captivity for twenty years, he exacts a plan of revenge. Finally released, he meets Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) at a nearby clinic. The two of them, though reluctant at first, begin to piece together who kidnapped Joe and how Joe can find his daughter.
Ms. Olsen, once again, outshines the rest of the cast. Her subtle gestures and extremely expressive face make up for any faulty storytelling or cliches. Mr. Brolin screams, literally, for most of the film but evokes such empathy in his isolated moments that his silence becomes welcomingly deafening.
According to reports, Spike Lee's original version was 140 minutes which the studio forced him to cut down to 105. The one hour and forty five minute version we see here could welcome Mr. Lee's original vision. The film is worthy to be viewed, but not worthy to be compared. Quite possibly, if the director was allowed to have his final edit screened, this remake of "Oldboy" might be a bit more exciting, a bit more gruesome and bit more of a Spike Lee Joint.
Both versions of "Oldboy" are currently available on DVD and Netflix.