page contents


I love 2003’s Oldboy, the original Korean film directed by Chan-Wook Park.  The entire ‘vengeance trilogy’ is a favorite of mine.  I own the original film and have seen it multiple times.  It always struck me as a very well done mystery with a very, very thick sense of realism.  It never seemed Hollywood to me.  The action scenes were gritty and realistic (as realistic as a hammer fight in a hallway can be).  The characters acted and reacted naturally.  It was at times confusing, mysterious, and strange yet it was always compelling.  It’s the sort of film that can be viewed multiple times and still be amazing.

In short, it’s a great movie, a huge cult classic here in the U.S. and one of the most well-known Korean films around.

So why did Spike Lee go and remake it for American audiences?

Maybe because of the above reasons.  It has done well in America thanks to word of mouth.  It’s a well-liked movie.  Critics liked it.  Of course Hollywood is going to take advantage of that.  Look at Let The Right One InLet Me In was the ‘remake’ yet the films were almost shot-for-shot the same.  Why did they even bother?  Oh, right, because the assumption is that most Americans don’t like to read subtitles.

The important question is, of course, ‘how is it?’

I’ll be honest.  I was critical.  I was ready to pan the film after 45 minutes but of course you can’t judge a play by the first act.  So I sat through it all and must admit that I was flooded with emotion.  Disdain, surprise, satisfaction, confusion, annoyance, happiness, disappointment.

No, this is not the original.  It has been changed.  It has been Americanized.  It’s more obvious.  Hell, it’s obvious that it’s obvious.  The film damn near holds your hand at times.  If you don’t guess the twists before they’re laid out on screen then you probably weren’t paying attention.  But does this make it a bad movie?  Well, I may be in the minority here, but I say no.

The American remake of Oldboy is a good film.  Not a great film and certainly nowhere near flawless.  But it’s good.

Starring Josh Brolin, for the 30 or so of you who have never seen the original, this film centers around Josh’s character Joe Doucett being kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years.  During his incarceration in a mysterious cell that looks just like a hotel room, he’s framed for his wife’s murder.

Suddenly, he’s freed and given just a few days to figure out who imprisoned him and why.  If he fails, his daughter will die.

During his search, he encounters Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen), an EMT with a heart of gold who is attracted to broken people.  She tries her best to help him find his daughter and his mysterious captor.

Yes, there are other people in the movie.  If you want to spoil things, go look it up yourself.

What’s important is that the hammer scene is still here even though it’s been thoroughly ‘Hollywood-ized.’  The basic premise is still the same and the acting is very, very good.  But yes, things are different.  It’s not a shot-for-shot remake.

Like I said earlier, there have been changes.  The plot is far more spoon-fed this time around.  But it’s okay, if you’re a fan you already know how it’ll end, right?  Why not enjoy a different take on it?

What changes were made do absolutely nothing to damage the film.  Spike Lee did alter scenes and plot points but he did not alter the overarching story of a man searching for two lost decades of life.

Honestly, people who have never seen the original and love brutal, gritty, dramatic films with a few twists should really check out the American version first.  It’s inferior, but not for lack of trying.  It’s a good movie that just happens to be overshadowed by one of the greatest films to ever come out of an entire country.

(Just a note before anyone feels the need to get out the pitchforks: No, I have not read the Manga.  The above review was merely from a film-to-film comparison.)

Oldboy: B