"-You might wanna think about what you're doing here!" "-I've been thinking about it for the last 20 years."
I could criticize the fact that this was yet another unnecessary remake considering Chan-wook Park's 2003 Oldboy has become a cult classic among worldwide audiences, but knowing this, I still decided to go ahead and watch Spike Lee's version, so I can't just claim it was unnecessary. I had curiosity as to what Lee could bring to the table and thought that the cast was pretty interesting as well. After seeing this film I can honestly see how difficult it must have been for Chan-wook Park to pull off such an ultra-stylish and violent movie, because Lee never manages to engage those of us that are already familiar with the revenge story. One of the things that the Korean film had going for it was the fantastic shocking ending, and Lee couldn't just rely on that surprise factor now. It would be like having someone remake The Sixth Sense; it would be an impossible feat to pull off considering how it relies heavily on that final twist. The other scene we all remember from the original film is the hallway hammer scene, and there was no way Lee could have left that scene out. He should have though because the scene felt completely out of tone with the rest of the film. The violence in this film never seems to have a purpose like it did in the Asian version. What this Oldboy lacked was the style and sense of purpose that Chan-wook Park's version had with some memorable characters and unforgettable scenes. The chemistry between Brolin and Olsen is nothing compared to the leads in the Asian film who really kept us engaged and interested in the story. This just proves how difficult it really is to capture that sense of style some of the Korean directors handle so masterfully.
The general story is pretty similar to Chan-wook Park's film with some minor changes. The screenplay was actually adapted by Mark Protosevich from the Japanese manga, not the film. This time the anti-hero's name is, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin); he's an advertising executive who is kidnapped and held captive in a small prison decorated as a hotel room for 20 years. During his mysterious abduction his wife is murdered and he is framed for the crime, while his 3 year old daughter, Mia, is adopted by another family. Not knowing who is holding him captive and for what reason, Joe's only window to the world is the television set he has in front of him. During his captivity Joe decides to get back in physical shape and stop drinking, hoping some day he can confront his captors and return to his daughter. Finally after 20 years he wakes up in a box a free man with no explanation as to why he was held captive all these years. He is given a cellphone, some cash, and the letters he has written for his daughter. The first thing Joe does is find his friend, Chucky (Michael Imperioli), who owns a nearby bar. Chucky helps Joe make a list of the people who might have done this to him. Joe also befriends a nurse named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), who believes his story after seeing the poor conditions he's in. Together they search for answers as Joe plans his revenge, but the real question is why he was held captive for so many years and then all of a sudden released.
Josh Brolin wasn't bad in the lead role, while Elizabeth Olsen also delivered a solid performance, but the film relied heavily on the chemistry between both characters and it wasn't really there. Samuel L. Jackson had a wacky supporting role, while Sharlto Copley played a convincing villain. His performance reminded me the most to the original character because he was more creepy than actually frightening. There were some minor changes to the ending which I thought weren't as effective, but perhaps it had to do with how shocking I found the original film. This film is much shorter than the original and perhaps it's not all Lee's fault considering the studio didn't allow him to release his original 140 minute cut which could have given the characters a better background story. This version felt rushed at times. If you have't seen either film skip this remake and watch the original instead.