After putting it off for quite some time, I finally watched Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of Oldboy. The original film, directed by Park Chanwook in 2003, is a cult classic and quite frankly one of my favorite films.
As a rule of thumb, I try to look at remakes as stand alone films with no stake in the original subject matter. Sometimes this is harder than usual, in which case I have to watch the movie several times to really be able to critique it.
For Oldboy (2013), I felt that the film was pretty average. Josh Brolin’s acting was pretty great as far as I’m concerned.The pacing was a bit irregular for me. It felt like it was dragging at the beginning and then was too rushed at the end. At one point, I had to pause the film for a bathroom break, and was pretty shocked to see that there were only 20 minutes left including credits. It felt like events were finally starting to pick up at the time.
There was more gratuitous violence than I would have preferred, specifically speaking of the first act of violence. It feels entirely unnecessary. This also leads to a part of the story that I felt was too unbelievable. Within the film, while the main character is imprisoned, he watches a whole lot of television and works out by doing pull ups in door frames and punching walls. For some reason this makes him almost superhuman, withstanding more blows than the average person and throwing punches with the force of someone who has been regularly trained in martial arts his entire life.
For the story itself, it’s hard to really make my point without bringing in the original film. Before I start to elaborate, I will start by saying that as I mentioned earlier, the movie is pretty average. There is a pretty hefty twist at the end, but the delivery of it seems almost lackluster. The story focuses very hard on making Josh Brolin’s character into your typical Hollywood badass anti-hero. In contrast, it makes the films “bad guy” into a pretty massive creeper. For this reason, it felt like the dynamic between the two of them is pretty shallow. It just doesn’t hold up for me. This makes the delivery of twist ending a lot less memorable than it could be, in my opinion. It’s still a massive “Wow. That sucks” moment, but it isn’t as hard-hitting as it is in the original film.
It was interesting to see that the remake kept the twist that made the original film such a classic. Throughout the time that the movie was in production, I was constantly wondering if they were going to keep it or change it. The remake did make a few changes to the story, some of which were interesting adaptations, but others which probably should have remained the same.
-If you are worried for spoilers, but have still been reading up to this point, do yourself a favor and stop now. I’m about to get specific-
Within the original film, the “bad guy” is a very compelling character. He imprisons the main character due to his role in the suicide of his sister, who he was in love with and was in love with him. His anger over the loss of his love led him to create this incredibly elaborate plan of revenge. His character is so dynamic and calculated that at times, I almost find myself wondering who the “bad guy” really is. When it comes to the remake, they changed his character into a more creepy, less relatable person. Instead of being in a romantic relationship with his sister, he is shown as having been in a completely incestuous family. Rather than being shown as a man who is avenging his lost love, he is framed as emotionally weak and holds values that just do not click with American values as a whole.
With this character change, it just feels like the big reveal at the end is not as well done as it could have been. It’s harder to understand his reasoning for why he does this evil scheme. It’s harder to see any real tension between the “bad guy” and the “good guy.” For me, this made the movie a lot less impactful.
On the other hand, a change that I did find interesting is how they framed the reveal of Joe’s daughter. Within the original, the main character just thinks that his daughter is gone, adopted by a couple in a foreign country, so the reveal that his love interest is actually his daughter is shocking to all involved. In the remake though, while the main character is imprisoned, he is shown video of his daughter as she grows up, so he believes he knows exactly who his daughter is and what she looks like. This makes the very same reveal to be just as shocking, if not more. I do applaud that change. It kept an avid fan of the original guessing.
There were a lot of homages to the original that I noticed: the angel wings on the woman who sells Josh Brolin the buddha duck for $5, the hammer that Josh Brolin uses as his starter weapon when entering the boarding house, the octopus on the glass in the aquarium, and the elevator that Josh Brolin uses at the end of the film when he’s about to meet the “bad guy” are just a few. Those were nice to see. I got all giddy inside when I pointed them out.
All in all, I’m glad I did watch it. I will probably not watch it again, but I’m glad that I didn’t skip the remake of Oldboy entirely.