The original Oldboy is a perennial favourite of mine. A dark, unsettling journey, taut and visceral. I was sceptical as the announcement of the inevitable US remake came out and as the time grew closer and reviews arrived, it seemed my fears were not misplaced. The word was out and the word was bad.
So I arrived at my viewing of the US version without high expectations, which I often find works in a film’s favour. It’s always better to be pleasantly surprised than let down, and pleasantly surprised I indeed was. This is a film with clear reverence for its source material which simultaneously distances itself enough to keep itself from redundancy á la Let Me In or any Horror franchise redux.
I’m aware that the South Korean original it’s itself adapted from a manga but have no idea whether the events depicted in this US version are more or less loyal but somehow they manage to be just as shocking as the SK while equally original. In some places, I even felt that a couple of changes made more sense, tying up ends that I had never realised were loose.
Spike Lee is a man whose work I am not intimately familiar with so it doesn’t mean a great deal that his technique here impressed me but that this film’s direction has as much zip and zeal as it’s progenitor is telling of the effort exuded here. This may also be down to the presence of cinematographer Sean Bobbit who has collaborated with Steve McQueen on all three of his beautiful movies.
Josh Brolin is equally as on point here, doing the method thing that seemed to be a De Niro/Bale exclusive but is vastly becoming commonplace. He starts as an overweight schlub and slowly metamorphosises into a chiselled wall-warrior as his jail time extends to the twenty year mark. He never once smiles, not showing any emotion at all other than strict determination. It’s a decisive move from Min-sik Choi’s gurning, batty, octopus-chewing performance and that may rob the film of personality somewhat but Samuel L. Jackson is on hand to make sure things don’t become too stern.
All in all I’d say that this is a very game remake, one with plenty of its own merits to warrant its existence. All parties involved add flavour to the picture but I’d give particular props to aforementioned Bobbit and the writer Mark Protosevich who has found a way to keep the essence of Oldboy in tact whilst reassembling some of its key elements with great success.mfans of the original don’t really have much to complain about and though I’d recommend the SK version first, new viewers could do a lot worse than watch this one.
– Oliver Drew