I NEVER SAW the original, highly regarded Korean Oldboy of 2003. It was on my list, but I did not get around to it by the time I saw the current American release. So my viewing was not encumbered by its predecessor, but those of most critics was. The Tomatoemeter is currently at 43%, a score which generally would serve as an avoidance warning. But it seems every critic entering
The Original (2003)
their score is comparing the remake to the original, which I suppose is fair but completely irrelevant to the majority of moviegoers (including myself) who never saw the original. I will not impugn this as a remake any more than I did The Last House on the Left. I will judge it based entirely on its own merits.
Now that I have that preamble and disclaimer out of the way, I thought that Oldboy (2013) was a fantastic, fun, exciting and original tale. It also marks in my mind more activity by the director Spike Lee, though there is nothing old style Spike Lee-ish about this production. It is reported (see Wikipedia article) that Lee was upset with “heavy editing” of the film which chopped 36 minutes. That may explain a sense I had of minor incongruities here and there, or of the film being a bit rushed — but maybe the edits weren’t such a bad thing: this movie moves. Its fast pace, transitioning from one exciting and eclectic plot element to another, helps make this a highly entertaining picture.
To understand what Oldboy is about, I’ll cite Richard Brody of The New Yorker, his entire review:
Hollywood’s wildest cinematic freakout since “Shutter Island” is a remake of—and an improvement on—the Korean original, from 2003. Josh Brolin stars as a swaggering corporate buck and a hard-drinking, philandering divorcé who awakens from a one-night stand to find himself in a motel room that turns out to be a solitary-confinement cell in a private prison. There, he learns from a TV report that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife. When he finally gets out, twenty years later, he tries to find his captors, clear his name, and get revenge, but his captors have their own plans for him. The director, Spike Lee, and the screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, have kept the story’s Grand Guignol violence but trimmed its random excrescences and focussed its themes to fit the movie, subtly but decisively, into Lee’s canon. The extreme yet horrific artifice of the setup pulls backstory to the fore and reveals, as if in a sociological X-ray, several lifetimes’ worth of privilege abused, opportunities squandered, and energy (and resources) misspent, and places blame squarely on enablers who blindly encourage destructive behavior and disablers who, with an emblematic lack of compassion, punitively compound and perpetuate the destruction. With Elizabeth Olsen, as a recovering addict now devoted to good works. (In wide release.)
* * *
I just about loved this movie. To me, I recognize it as a postmodern superhero story, an alternate to the boring Avengers and Supermen and walking dead vampires that are so prevalent and popular these days. There are both deadly realistic and comic-booky elements (the fight scenes, for example), but the different styles mesh with the corresponding part of the story being depicted to create, again, a wonderfully eclectic and entertaining adventure.
Certainly I won’t give away the end, but let’s say that Oldboy is a twisted, wicked story of vengeance sought and served on the order of Seven or the “Scott Tenorman Must Die” episode of South Park. I’m wavering between an 8 or 9 on this one; for now I’ll give it a high 8/10.