Oldboy (2013)

By Peter Towe

Published on Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Imagine waking up in a strange room with no windows or doors, and staying there for more than 20 years with nothing but a television for your contact to the outside world.   Got it?  Now you’re in the head of Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin).  Spike Lee’s Oldboy follows the story of advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) who is kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement without any indication of his captor’s motive. When he is inexplicably released, he embarks on an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his bizarre and torturous punishment only to find he is still trapped in a web of conspiracy and torment. His quest for revenge leads him into an ill-fated relationship with a young social worker, Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), and ultimately to an elusive man (Sharlto Copley) who allegedly holds the key to his salvation.

After 20 years and a lot of dumplings, Doucett is unleashed back onto the world.  As one would assume, it takes a little getting used to.  I don’t want to talk too much more about the plot because it is a great story to watch unravel, and the less you know about it the better.  One of the biggest fears about remaking Oldboy was that American studios would “clean it up”.  Having seen both, I can tell you that the remake holds nothing back and is as disturbing as the original film.  The violence is there, but the film has a heightened sense of reality to it.  Everything feels slightly off, which is a good thing as the movie will pull you in and absolutely mess with your head.  I am glad to see that the filmmakers and the studios decided not to twist and turn what made the original such a classic film, while at the same time reinventing the story and adding new elements that do make it feel more like what Spike Lee called a re-imagining, and not simply a remake.

Spike Lee gave the film his own look and style deciding to shoot Oldboy using 35mm, Super 16 and Super 8 cameras that gave the film a slightly grainy picture and a lot of texture.  There is a very famous scene in the original, so the filmmakers wanted to try something a little different and put their own spin on it. All I will say is there is a three and a half minute shot which required a 73-foot hydroscope, which is a telescoping crane on a mobile base that required 10 grips to operate.  The shot works putting a new spin on what you expect (if you have seen the original), and the overall look of the film adds to the dark tone that plays off a very dark story.


Part of what made Park Chan-wook’s film work so well was the acting, and the believability of the main character.  20 years is a long time to be stuck in a room and both your mind and physical body are going to drastically change.  Josh Brolin’s Doucett comes into his imprisonment an alcoholic and overweight.  When he comes out after his 20 year sentence, Brolin gives a believable performance as a man who may have lost his mind forever.  Elizabeth Olsen gives a great performance as a strong yet extremely vulnerable social worker who helps Joe after he is freed to the world.  Joe’s only friend Chucky is played by the great Michael Imperioli, and it was interesting to see the friendship of Joe and Chucky even when 20 years had passed.  I wish we got to see more development between some of the characters, but I think they kept it this way to move the movie along at a brisker pace.  Sharlto Copley plays the stranger, and is once again fantastic and completely different from role to role and movie to movie.  Copley has great ability jumping into characters, and immersing himself to where, at least for me, he is often unrecognizable.

For fans of the original who are going into this film looking to be blown away again, they may leave a little disappointed.  However, if you have not seen the original, Oldboy will leave you in shock.  I was weary about this remake at first, but I can honestly say that it was handled well and they were able to put their own spin on it.  It is as dark and twisted as the original, so if you were afraid of getting a watered down Hollywood version you won’t be disappointed.  Oldboy starts fast and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

Oldboy stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, written by Mark Protosevich and opens November 27, 2013.


The Good

+ Excellent directing with some classic Spike Lee shots.

+ As relentless and shocking as the original.

+ The use of film over digital.

The Bad

- A little too quick, could have added more scenes between main characters.


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