In 2003 Chan-wook Park unleashed his revenge thriller Oldboy to critical acclaim creating a film that some believe to be one of the best in the genre. When it was announced that the American remake was coming of course fans were not happy and didn’t feel that this film needed a remake. With Spike Lee stepping out of his usual style of filmmaking to take on this remake and an impressive cast including Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli, and Sharlto Copley could it be possible for him to create a film that remotely holds a flame to the original?
Oldboy follows a man who is kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. When he is inexplicably released, he embarks on an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his punishment, only to find he is still trapped in a web of conspiracy and torment. The original is an amazing film, but one that is a bit of an acquired taste. What is impressive with this remake is not only that it is really good and stays true to the story, but it is a way more cohesive film. The original sports some strange psycadelic moments and hypnotism that works fine for what they are going for, but also makes it a bit out there at times. With this film, they ditch some of those aspects and change up the idea while still delivering the same story to much better effect. This version doesn’t always go nearly as bloody as the original, but still delivers some cringe inducing action moments. There was much talk about the lack of the single shot hammer mob fight scene, but to be honest it works here just as great as the original. The more straight direction of telling this story gave it a bit more impact and resolution, that the original lacked on some level. Brolin is excellent in this role and could have easily been the one that convinced people he could have played the old Bruce Wayne/Batman that was long rumored without question. Jackson is given and over the top type of character, but never takes it too far into his usual antics to make it cartoony despite his somewhat comical look. Olsen delivers yet another great performance showcasing that she is here to stay and clearly the more talented of the Olsen family. Visually Lee has brought a gritty tone, while still giving it some artistic feel making for a stunningly dark version of this thriller.
There is sure to be a lot of arguing over this film as the hardcore fans of the original will likely either not check it out or refuse to see what Lee has done here. This is not the kind of filmmaking Lee fans will be used to, but the kind he should do more of because his brilliance as a director really shines here. In a world of remakes and sequels, we never actually need these, but it’s nice that when they happen they can live up to or be better than the original. This version of Oldboy isn’t necessarily better as a whole, but does a lot of things better making for a great reimagining. Whether you despise the idea of this remake or just not a fan of Lee, give this one a shot as it is a great movie that should not be missed.