Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Spike Lee
Running Time: 104 minutes
Some of you may know that I do like comparing things from time to time and I have quickly reviewed the original film. Originally, I wasn't sure whether I would see it or not and when I did make a decision, it wasn't playing anywhere near me. I didn't want to see it bad enough to drive more than an hour. So, to my surprise, my job had it and I bared through it with my folks.
Joe Doucett, an advertising executive, is unexplainably kidnapped and imprisoned in an unknown hotel of sorts for 20 years. While in prison, he finds out that his wife has been murdered and his daughter has been orphaned. The authorities believe that Joe murdered his own wife and he is a wanted a man, but no one knows where he's located. When he is released, his main goal is to find his daughter that he's watched grow up on television as well as find out why he was locked away.
Upon hearing the announcement of this remake, majority of Oldboy fans complained and stated that it was unnecessary. At the time, I never saw the original, but agreed that the American version wouldn't do the movie justice, simply basing it on the Asian to American remake track record. Once I saw the original, I had no idea what Spike Lee was going to do with certain parts of the material. After watching it, I skimmed over some thoughts IMDb commenters left about the movie and, in this day and age, there was a debate about the old and new versions, more specifically that fans of the older version should get over themselves. Of course, this post isn't about everyone else's opinion, it's about mine.
It's kinda hard to admit that this movie had any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It isn't the worst Asian/American film I've seen, but that doesn't really say much about this movie as there's plenty of cringeworthy elements added and manipulated for the remake. Some modifications weren't that bad such as having a televised crime show for Joe to cling onto, some visual points were nice on the eye such as the mystery woman with the umbrella, and Marie was an alright character for the most part. The attempts to replicate certain scenes from the original were...decent. Simply judging on purely surface elements of the movie, meaning the most basic foundation of the original film as simply a revenge flick and appearance, it's borderline passable.
Judging this as a movie alone and avoiding comparison, I have many complaints. Let's start with the most important and biggest complaint, because the rest almost goes along with it, which is Joe's character. Joe is our protagonist. We, as the audience, are supposed to attach ourselves to him and feel some sort of positive emotion to cheer him on through this crazy journey. Unfortunately, our protagonist is very much unlikeable and despicable. I almost feel more sympathy for the antagonist than him because he has more likeable qualities. Joe doesn't have the best relationship with his wife and daughter. He's in short a selfish alcoholic among other things. I could not find myself liking this guy from the start and as the movie progressed, I still couldn't muster up any sympathy or care to cheer for his cause. Maybe Spike Lee intended for him to be that way, but it's a dumb idea to approach a revenge film in such a manner. To go along with Joe's character is his interactions with Marie which, for the most part, felt extremely awkward. They lacked so much chemistry and when the sex ensued, I just couldn't believe it. Also, Joe's drive to reciprocate the pain on the antagonist's associates felt unbelieveable and stiff. It just seemed like he was going through the motions without any feeling. Lastly, the pacing wasn't very good and the dialogue didn't help move things along either.
If it wasn't obvious, as a remake, it's not very good. Spike Lee makes a poor attempt to recapture iconic scenes and stand out moments that make the original intriguing and unique. Such examples include a popular hallway scene that doesn't feel as fluid or intense as the original nor does the lead up to the mystery man behind the monitors of the building Joe is held captive of. Even the imprisonment scene doesn't convey enough confusion and anguish from Joe. The scene is uninteresting and a bit drawn out. It also has way too much detail and doesn't completely draw you in immediately to keep watching or even pose the question of why this is happening to him. Thanks to the addition of Joe's employment and relationship background, it takes away the mystery and purpose of the film. The unlikeable Joe doesn't help matters either. The remake also holds back on the gory imagery, which is an interest choice, but not much of an issue with either version. In short, Lee's attempt is a pale comparison of the original when copying over certain elements. But my biggest reason for watching, aside for comparison sake, is how Lee would handle the twist from the original. Aside from Joe's character, this is another major complaint I had with the movie, so **SPOILER ALERT**. This warning is for both movies. So, please skip to the last paragraph if you do not want to be spoiled!
After watching the original, I was shocked by the ending and the reasoning behind the antagonist's motive, then I had to think about the remake. I tried to guess what they would do with such a taboo matter of an incestual relationship, but I figured that Lee would completely drop it and change it to something more American friendly and safe. To my surprise, he kept it...then amped it up times ten. Oh my god!! I despised this ending so much. One reason was the execution of the reveal. Something that annoys me about Asian/American remakes, and even just in general, is how they spell things out to the audience, despite understanding what's going on the first two times. The explanation is so out there, meticulous, and just plain stupid, especially compared to the original. So, either way, the execution fails no matter it's comparative or not. Another reason is the content, that whole amped up incest twist. It just seems like Lee thought, 'Hey! That big incest reveal left a huge impact. What if we did more!". In a way, Lee changed the reveal to make more sense to American audiences to be more like rape than a consensual relationship. On top of that was some more added violence to explain the antagonist's relationship with his family and his injury. But the actual ending to it all just didn't feel right. Everything was wrapped up in this bittersweet beautiful package with a ribbon on top that simply didn't sit right with me at all.
It's surprising how many supporters of this movie there are. I do understand their annoyance with those who are close minded to try out the new, but they should also be open to listening to the other side as well. As a standalone movie, it's decent, but the negatives taint any tiny bit that is enjoyable. And as a remake, it's not very good. It's practically a very fragile shell of what the original was and tries to make it more American friendly/logical, but it ends up being awkward and unintelligible. If it isn't obvious, I would suck it up and start reading some subtitles, because the original is a masterpiece.
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