‘Oldboy’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:28 pm,

Josh Brolin Oldboy Remake Hallway Scene Oldboy Review

The Oldboy remake is second-fiddle in nearly every way to its South Korean inspiration (save performances).

Spike Lee’s Oldboy follows advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), who after a night of heavy drinking, awakens inside a locked hotel room. For two decades, Doucett remains held inside the cell with no knowledge of his captors, the reason behind his imprisonment, or whether he’ll see freedom again. In the intervening time, Doucett is blamed for the death of his wife by authorities who presume he is either dead or long gone. Unable to defend himself against the allegations, much less reveal that he is being held against his will, Doucett passes the time training and pouring over news reports in the hopes that someday he’ll be able to seek revenge for the crimes against his family and reconnect with his since orphaned daughter.

After a full twenty years, Doucett is abruptly released and provided with thousands in cash to help him get back on his feet. In an effort to determine a purpose for the abduction, the former captive seeks out his best friend, Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and accepts help from a local clinician assistant, Marie (Elizabeth Olsen). However, with every secret that Doucett uncovers, he becomes increasingly aware that his former captors are still watching – but for what purpose?

Josh Brolin Oldboy Remake Oldboy Review

Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett in the ‘Oldboy’ Remake

For viewers that do not know the history behind Spike Lee’s Oldboy, the 2013 film is an American remake of the cult-classic 2003 South Korean film of the same name, directed by Chan-wook Park (which was derived from a manga story by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya). Over the last ten years Park’s Oldboy has grown increasingly popular around the globe and, unfortunately, Lee’s remake is little more than an Americanized adaptation, swapping out English-speaking Hollywood actors for the original subtitled (or dubbed) Korean performers – while failing to improve upon any of the original film’s plot twists, visual aesthetic, or action set pieces. Nevertheless, the Oldboy story is still a fascinating (not to mention twisted) one, and Lee, along with screenwriter Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend), only makes minor changes to the main narrative arc – expanding the protagonist’s imprisonment from 15 to 20 years, among other small tweaks.

At 104 minutes, the American remake is a full 16 minutes shorter than Park’s Oldboy. The result is a slightly more straightforward film that forgoes some of the original movie’s stranger moments (i.e. octopus) in order to keep the mystery-thriller plot moving without too many detours that might be distracting to a mainstream western audience. Yet, the shortened runtime also forces Lee to rush key encounters, which are not always given enough time and space to develop, as well as forgoing meaningful insight or updates to the setting and its primary characters. To compensate, Oldboy 2013 utilizes several on-the-nose exposition dumps, where subtly is abandoned in favor of quickly explaining the unfolding situation to viewers who might have trouble keeping up – especially in the third act.

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Elizabeth Olsen as Marie in ‘Oldboy’

Aside from its story, Park’s Oldboy is also celebrated for its haunting visuals and iconic one-take hallway fight that lasts three full minutes – neither of which are improved upon in the remake. Lee delivers competent substitutes, but instead of impassioned filmmaking choices, much of the Oldboy remake comes across as a checklist of key elements that needed to be incorporated (and subsequently translated for an American setting). In particular, even though the hallway fight offers some exciting and cringe-inducing action, it’s somewhat at odds with the rest of the film (eastern culture is mostly just window dressing this time), included because of its importance to the original, but without much inspired or memorable iteration in the actual sequence.

The biggest selling point of the film, and the main reason that it’s still recommendable, is a stable of well-known acting talents that will likely make this version of the Oldboy storyline more palatable to certain western viewers. Despite the rigors of the material, Josh Brolin doesn’t break a lot of new ground as the tortured Joe Doucett, mostly riffing on similar quiet-but-deadly types that he’s played before. Still, even though he doesn’t raise the bar, the actor is a good fit for the character and delivers in several challenging moments that, without his full commitment and talent, could have drastically hurt the film’s emotional punch.

Josh Brolin Oldboy Remake Hotel Room Oldboy Review

Joe Doucett enjoying his luxurious accommodations in ‘Oldboy’

Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t step too far outside of his usual comfort zone (aside from an askew yellow mohawk) but is at the center of several twisted moments that will keep audiences squirming. Instead of the more candid depiction of The Captor (as originally portrayed by Yoo Ji-tae), Sharlto Copley’s take is much more eccentric – presenting a twisted cartoon character that will, dependent on the viewer, either be the highlight of Lee’s Oldboy or an eye-rolling inclusion from start to finish. Fortunately, up-and-comer Elizabeth Olsen keeps any of the more outlandish personalities grounded with a superb supporting performance that injects much-needed life and empathy into a film filled to the brim by violent and (intentionally) hollow men.

Despite the updated American setting and full decade since Park’s Oldboy, Lee includes very few fresh ideas – failing to build any meaningful or thoughtful additions onto an already strong foundation. As a result, moviegoers who are off-put by subtitled foreign films will now have opportunity to enjoy the Oldboy story competently brought to life with familiar Hollywood faces. Understandably, Lee’s version could make for a more immersive and relatable experience for certain audience members in the West – happily exposing more people to the creative and controversial story. Nevertheless, the Oldboy remake is second-fiddle in nearly every way to its South Korean inspiration (save performances) – and for anyone who has seen the original, this version will come across as a watered-down photocopy.


Josh Brolin Oldboy Remake Spoilers Oldboy Review

Oldboy runs 104 minutes and is Rated R for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language. Now playing in theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Oldboy Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Oldboy episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
TAGS: Oldboy
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  1. Thanks for the review, general consensus is just about what you’ve said here. I didnt have much hope for it anyway except that Brolin and Olsen might be help it along. Oh well. I watched the original half a dozen times, no reason to waste time on this.

  2. I will probably wait for video on this one. I just bought the original on Blu-ray and I am content with repeat viewings of it.

  3. smh @ Spike Lee

    • +1

      • +2

  4. I think it’s quite hard to improve a film that has a strong foundation… Not that I believe that Oldboy (2003) is perfect, but details do matter in that one: (SPOILERS AHEAD)

    1. Woo-jin Lee (the captor) isn’t given this eccentric past. He’s not the typical villain… Adrian does have a past that seems to “justify” certain things.
    2. Park (director) established some interesting metaphors. For instance, right at the beginning of the film we see this stranger who’s held by Oh Dae-su. This stranger is about to commit suicide and has a white puppy in his arms. That same “image” is seen later when Woo-jin Lee is holding his sister… You can even interpret that Park establishes that the stranger is Woo-jin Lee who hasn’t let go of the past and the white puppy is his bodyguard (who has white hair).
    3. The painting in Oh Dae-su’s room is just the same face he makes at the end of the film
    4. There’s a King Kong poster when Oh Dae-su and Mi-Do “consumate their love”…(a love that shouldn’t be?)
    5. The ending… It’s the second biggest twist in the film, but we don’t get to experience it in Spike Lee’s version…for whatever reason they had. Anyway…too bad.

  5. If I hear someone else calling this a “remake” I swear to god I’m going to kill a baby.

    • A) Threatening to kill a baby is a pretty drastic thing to swear to God. Especially when we’re just arguing semantics.

      B) Lee and Protosevich can try and shake the remake label, but having seen the film, it’s hard to sidestep calling it a remake. It’s a very close adaptation that is actually hindered, instead of elevated, by its dedication to re-presenting iconic elements from the original film (ex. the mostly uninterrupted hallway fight). As a result, it’d be disingenuous to call it a “reimagining” of the original manga source material.

      • a) I always swear to god and I always threaten to kill something. It’s just a joke: an overreaction of something that doesn’t deserve such response.

        b) It’s the same thing as John Carpenter’s The Thing, or Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit. Both are re-adaptations which had also another adaptation before, yet they’re not remakes.

        • We’ll just have to agree to disagree but, in my opinion, it’s not that cut and dry this time. I agree about The Thing and The Hobbit but Lee’s Oldboy adaptation directly riffs on elements that were unique to Park’s film – and not in the original source material. Maybe it’s somewhere between the two (adaptation and remake). I respect your take, my impression after seeing it was that it was much closer to a remake than a re-adaptation.

        • you (Alex) clearly don’t understand what a remake is. John Carpenter’s The Thing has a story before it as Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit is the story before the Lord of the Rings. A remake is the re-telling of a story.

          and for killing a baby even if its “an overreaction of something that doesn’t deserve such response” then don’t comment if it doesn’t deserve response. it makes the community of commenter look bad when you are writing this like this.

          • We comment on whatever we choose on our site. Don’t like it, leave.

            And it’s a remake. A reimagining requires new ideas. This doesn’t offer any.

        • Your comments may be meant as a joke but are definitely over the top and unnecessary. The response you declared as an “over reaction” is quite warranted in my opinion. Why not contribute something insightful or thought provoking rather than “your brand of comedy”, which is typical internet troll commentary.

  6. The original is a French existential movie shot through the prism of psychological K-horror perception. In short, utterly unique. A true one off. More fanboyish about it one could not be.

    I therefore expected little from this facsimile. I do offer the contention I am utterly biased when it comes to remaking foreign films (as in, don’t. If they ever attempt ‘Audition’ I will explode). Sure, one way or another I would welcome more attention being brought to the original. Even via a remake. But this is ludicrous in the extreme.

    It is therefore my hope that, as the review alludes to, that watching this will make people revisit the original. That may be the only thing in my opinion that will offer it merit.

    Nice review, Mr Kendrick.

    • Korean* … like honestly how did you get French out of that?

      • He never said it was French, he said it was as existential and full of broader ideas as a French existentialist movie.

        That’ll teach you to comment without understanding what’s being said.

  7. This isn’t satisfying. I just feel empty on the inside. I was so filled with hate for this remake and I wanted it to fail so bad but now that it has I don’t feel anything…

    • This comment makes me so sad for some reason.

      You should find a friend who would appreciate the original and invite them over and watch it together. By sharing it you will expunge some of the pain this remake represents.

      • I was attempting to riff on Lee Woo-jin’s feelings at the end of the original Oldboy. Didn’t really come out very clearly but then again I guess Oldboy ended ambiguously so it’s appropriate.

        Although, in all seriousness, this remake’s lukewarm reception is really disappointing to me. I wanted it to be either really great or really terrible. This in-between blandness seems so much worse than if the film had been outright awful.

  8. We all knew it was gonna be s**** and it seems their it is. Nothin to talk about.

  9. Ben you pretty much summarised who the target audience (and those that will like this will be): white people that hate reading subtitles :D

    i would gladly watch the original korean movie or read the manga if i was interested in the premise of the story instead of watching a try hard attempt at mimicking something people refer to as a ‘classic’ (whatever that standard is nowadays).

  10. Ben Kendrick must hate every single person sitting with him at the cinema (if they are not reviewers like himself) as he clearly has nothing but contempt for the variable palate of his fellow westerners, evident in this review of a film which is ‘without too many detours that might be distracting to a mainstream western audience’. He then contends to, somewhat cynically, state that the film’s biggest selling point is ‘a stable of well-known acting talents that will likely make this version of the Oldboy storyline more palatable to certain western viewers’, before finally concluding that ‘Lee’s version could make for a more immersive and relatable experience for certain audience members in the West’. I wonder whether Ben Kendrick is secretly a Chinese spy or if he is simply the most brutishly unforgiving reviewer around when he chooses to degrade the audience, and consumers, rather than the creators, of the painfully underwhelming cesspool of emotionless high stakes low reward b******* cinema of late.

    • Anyone who frequents our site knows that I’m not contemptuous or hateful toward anyone – especially fellow moviegoers. I can understand how, from a certain point of view, someone might take my comments as cynical. That said, what I’m actually saying is merely that if someone is interested in Oldboy, and is going to sit down for two hours, the best option is the original South Korean version. It’s just fact that “some” moviegoers want to see familiar faces and might be less interested in a subtitled foreign film. It’s not a negative thing toward those people, I don’t say they’re wrong, I specifically say “understandably” because it is understandable.

      Still, Hollywood chose to remake (or re-adapt) the movie because there are a lot of potential viewers that weren’t going out to see the foreign version. If Park’s film was a financial hit here (i.e. the West), what would have been the point of remaking it? I only use the East and West phrasing to denote the target audience that Lee and Hollywood studios were aiming to attract (via an english language remake with “a stable of well-known acting talent”).

      It’s easy to pick and choose quotes from our reviews to serve an umbrella statement that “Ben Kendrick must hate EVERY single person sitting with him at the cinema” since “he CLEARLY has NOTHING but contempt for the variable palate of his fellow westerners.” Yet, the majority of my argument was spent criticizing the creator (Lee) for delivering an underwhelming and uninspired film.

      Then again, maybe I just am a Chinese spy ;)

      • “If Park’s film was a financial hit here…” which is, to me, the entire reason behind this general view that foreign films get remade (with Americanized filtering) exactly because a general ego-centric thinking among our populace. It isn’t cynical to suggest a general observation that rings true most of the time.

        When AfterDark’s first HorrorFest ran the circle here, the only time I heard any outright opposition to any of the films was when Reincarnation (Rinne) began, and that opposition started in the form of out-loud moaning and groaning the moment the production title came up on the screen and it was (gasp) in Japanese. No one left the theater, but it was the only film out of the six I saw where people were acting like they were home in their living rooms, talking throughout and not paying attention to the film from that moment on, with no respect to those of us who didn’t mind subtitles and wanted to enjoy it.

        Fortunately, my girlfriend and I happened to be seated next to another couple with the same sentiments, with whom we were able to discuss the film afterwards and before the third film of the night.

        People whom react adversely to observations like these in reviews come off more like they have symptoms of a guilt-complex, subconscious or otherwise. There are always exceptions, but it really says something about the general audience when our films are frequently injected into foreign markets but a foreign film does not get the same attention or distribution in the American market… but three years later there’s an English speaking Americanized remake either green-lit, going into production, or coming out after the foreign versions success.

  11. Wow Ben, some people can seriously overreact in the comments section of a review

  12. hey BEN nicer review thanks 4 not sugar coating a rubbish remake or whatever it was spike shud have listened to the fans u caaaaaaant remake oldboy the classic 4 a 2 hour reasons…probably a director like scorsese cud have pulled it off bt not lee…

  13. Ben Kendrick… I just want you to know when Elizabeth Olsen’s breast plopped out of her towel, you were the FIRST person i thought of…that’s right, pal. We’ve made it.

  14. Ben, Your one of my Favorites on here reviewing and on the Podcasts each week. My Wife and I take your recommendations and judge upon ourselves. The original 2003, is a film that I always lend out to my friends, or people who say that foreign films don’t impress them. After they return this film, They just ask do I have more stuff like this to watch. I won’t go to see this ‘Remake,’ cause I know either Lee, or Will Smith would have water down the “Cult Classic.” The Original was Amazing and My Draw dropped still to this day at the “Twist.” Again, Ben Your review was very insightful, Thank You Sir.

  15. Zachary would be correct. The definition of a remake is a retelling of the same story again. The Hobbit is not the same story as the Lord of the Rings, it is a prequel. Oldboy is literally the exact same story with America being the setting and Americans being the characters, but it is the same story with the same plot. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that Oldboy is not a remake.

    • I used to get into discussions laden with semantics with people who insisted on telling me that The Ring was not a remake of Ringu, but rather a another adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s Ring novel… which made it apparent that they hadn’t read the novel, which I happen to own.

      Production companies knew there was a growing aversion to the word remake from a marketing standpoint, so they chimed in with these nice euphemisms like re-adaptation, re-invention, re-interpretation… but that’s because most people couldn’t correctly tell you what a euphemism is without looking up the definition.

      Out of the three, re-adaptation only works if you are following the source material with your own spin, not lifting all your cues from the previously aired film and claiming it’s a re-adaptation solely on the merit that another form of the story pre-exists the original film.

  16. Anyone who would summarily dismiss this version of “Oldboy” without seeing one frame is doing themselves and others a disservice. Spike Lee has the same right to offer his version just as Fincher did with “Girl w/Dragon Tattoo” or van Zant did with “Psycho”. If you have an axe to grind with Spike, please include this in future reviews. If you don’t believe any movie should be remade, say so in future reviews. If you wish to kickstart an effort to buy up every copy of this film and re-release Park’s version, be my guest.

    • Agreed i really don’t see why people are so against remakes or reboots the original will always be there it wont be affected by the new version in anyway and sometimes they are better than the original for example scarface,The Thing(1982 was a remake of The Thing From Another World 1951),True Grit,Oceans eleven,3:10 to yuma,King Kong etc

      • Actually, the 1951 version of The Thing was a very loose adaptation of the novella “Who Goes There?” while Bill Lancaster actually did go back to the novella for his more faithful adaptation used in the 1982 film. As such, The Thing is an example where the term re-adaptation would be accurate and applicable.

        Never understood reboot, though. If one reboots a computer (assuming that’s were the use of the term comes from) the computer is pretty much in the same state as it was when it shut down… completely the opposite of the implied status between one film and the next.

  17. in no way is this version a better movie than the original oldboy.and i personaly cant stand spike lee because he is an egotistical reverse racist. that being said. i still think this version is a good film. no way is it as good.but still pretty bad ass. josh brolin was a perfect pick for the role. and i do agree that americans would probably enjoy this one more than the korean version because this one is alittle more straight forward.alot of ppl i know do not like the korean version because they think its boring,and sick.whatever to that lol…say what you want about those ppl. and i am so happy spike lee didnt make the ending like the original japenese manga oldboy.that s*** was stupid. i just think to many fans of the korean oldboy are being very biased. kinda like every1 hating man of steel and worshipping richard donners first superman. for the pure sake of being a hater.

    • This is a true critic. Putting aside personal feelings and commenting on the art. This reminds me of director Kevin Smith giving praise to Bruce Willis work in “Looper”. Hated his guts during and after the making of “Cop Out” and trashed him in press and on stage. Yet he saw a great performance, and he gave the Devil his due.

  18. i, personally, do not have anything against Spike Lee. He has directed some wonderful movies in his time. However, this remake/reimagining was always going to be problematic from the start, given the high regard the original movie is held in.

    I fail to see the need to constantly remake a movie for a “western” audience. I have watched the original (a couple of years after it came out and again recently on dvd) and even though I am a westerner, I found the movie to be equally gripping, engaging, disturbing and brilliant. If the only reason not to the see the original is due to subtitles, I say simply watch the dubbed version.

    Having seen the trailer for this remake, I, for one, shall be giving it a miss at the cinema. This is not to besmirch any of the people involved; I’m sure they have done an good job. However, the remake is akin to remaking casablanca or any other equally revered movie classic (totally unnecessary).

  19. I heard a lot of the movie was cut by studio executives. That sucks. And look at the number of comments here. Did the studio even advertise it?