Your enjoyment of Spike Lee’s Oldboy will hinge almost exclusively on your knowledge of and fondness for the original. I did not expect to like this remake due to my love for Chan-Wook Park’s original and I was pleasantly surprised that it was not a train wreck. Be that as it may, my surprise at the non-awfulness of it wore off rather quickly and what was left was a middling sense that I hadn’t seen anything new. Spike Lee has made a well-crafted film which looks gorgeous, but ultimately falls flat for anyone that knows it’s a remake.
Oldboy stars Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett, an advertising executive with a fondness for alcohol and womanizing. After a deal goes bad Joe gets heavily liquored up and wakes up in what looks to be a hotel room. The gravity of his situation doesn’t set in until he realizes that he can’t get out. The door has no handle and is locked from the outside. There are no windows and there is no phone. A tray with food and vodka is slid through a door slot for meals and all human contact is cut off. He is kept in that room for twenty years with only a TV to keep him company. He awakens in a trunk in the middle of a field after all that time with a wallet full of money and a cellphone. His captor calls the phone and asks Joe to answer three questions: Who is he, Why did he kidnap Joe and lock him up for twenty years, and why did he let him go? Thus begins Joe’s quest for answers and revenge.
I cannot divorce myself from my familiarity with the original Oldboy and Spike Lee hasn’t given me any reason to separate the two. Lee’s version is not bad, but that may be because it is an extremely faithful retelling of what was already a great story. Lee tries to copy some of Park’s visual panache and does manage to create a visually compelling film, however, he never makes it his own. Audiences that haven’t seen the original may enjoy this immensely, but for those that have it will depend on your willingness to watch what you’ve already seen. If nothing else, I hope that newcomers to Lee’s film will eventually seek out the superior original.