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Should You See the 'Oldboy' Remake?

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo

Should Josh Brolin have laid down the hammer on this American remake?


I’ll admit it, I fell hard for the original Oldboy, the film that launched South Korean director Park Chan-wook to prominence worldwide with its impressive reception at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. While some critics sniffed at the film’s graphic violence and twisted plot—Manohla Dargis suggested its popularity was “symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism”—I, like many others, responded to the surreal style, the dark humor and the terrifically unhinged protagonist of the second in what became Park’s “vengeance trilogy.” Basically, the plot goes like this: Oh Dae-su, a drunk, is kidnapped during a bender and imprisoned in an eerily homey (for a prison) room for 15 years while his wife is murdered and daughter put up for adoption, only to be released without explanation. He stalks the streets of Seoul bent on revenge, with the aid of a winsome young woman he meets randomly. His sociopath captor taunts him mercilessly while Dae-su goes on an uber-violent rampage to discover why he was imprisoned and who was behind it.

Initially, I thought I’d give American Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee and starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, a shot, but after recently re-watching the original, I have some serious reservations. On the other hand, as the blogosphere can attest, the remake has some intriguing elements that seem worthwhile. Here’s my pros and cons, as well as whether I’ll be sitting in the theater on opening day.

PROS

The Lead Actors
Brolin (W., No Country for Old Men) has the charisma of a leading man but the commitment of the yeoman character actor that he’s always been. Olsen, another actor known for intelligent choices, could shore up the original’s weakest point, the inexplicably ditzy love interest. In an interview with the Huffington Post she said “we have to make her something different than the Korean film, obviously. Because in that it’s just kind of like using the woman as a tool, in a way … you had to change that.”

The Director
While Spike Lee doesn’t seem like a perfect fit, he has technical chops that rival Park’s skills. Though he may be more judicious than Park in busting out flashy moves, there’s at least two scenes that already have the industry buzzing: one is Lee’s notorious double-dolly tracking shot, which can cause characters to appear to glide through scenes; the other is a nearly single-take battle royale filmed on three levels of a parking garage, which ups the ante on Park’s original scene of Dae-su annihilating a group of bad guys in a narrow hallway.

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