Oldboy (Rated R, 104 minutes)
As much as the Internet denies it, there are good remakes: the perfect examples being 3:10 to Yuma, Dawn of the Dead, and Ocean’s Eleven. These films work because they improved on the original’s flaws, while still being their own entity. Unfortunately, Spike Lee’s Oldboy is an utter failure: the remake fails to be its own unique entity, and also highlights the original’s problems. Now before I move on, it is important to point out that though I loved the original I was really excited to see this. The original is amazing, but it had imperfections that I thought the American version could improve on: just like Fincher did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Now, the plot of Oldboy is very simple: a scoundrel seeks the answer to why he is kidnapped and imprisoned for twenty years. This very simple premise devolves into a vicious morality tale of violence, incest, and culpability. And for the most part, the first act, where the audience meets the immoral Joe Doucett and sees his imprisonment, is surprisingly average. Though the introduction of the protagonist is convoluted compared to the simple introduction of the original, Joe’s imprisonment helps establish empathy for the character. Yet even with the emotional investment, the first act plunges into mediocrity. And if the overall product ‘stayed this mediocre course,’ my review would be much more ambivalent: like the harmless Robocop remake. However, as soon as the first act is over, the motion picture becomes an utter atrocity devoid of any redeeming qualities.
As soon as Joe is released, the audience is treated with a very unnecessary and poorly executed fight scene; it is then I realized that the remake slowly drifts away from mediocrity and starts to creep towards atrocity. Not only does this feel dated, but also, the poor shot direction and terrible acting hinder the scene. Just because this is a remake to a Korean film, does not mean the mostly white actors need to grunt like they are in a ‘Kung-Fu’ movie. Instead of paying homage, it is incredibly distracting to see a borderline racist parody of this Asian genre. Furthermore, the rest of the acting is maliciously bad: to the point where I almost shut the movie off. Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, actors who can usually carry a movie, seem like amateurs; which can be blamed on the script’s dialogue and Lee’s direction. On top of this, the villain seems to belong in a bad ‘60s B-movie;’ his ‘Mr. Burns-like’ movements come across as ridiculous rather than creepy or scary.
Again, remakes work when one of two basic concepts are utilized; either it is an unique story with the basic outline of the original or it has the same plot but improves on the original’s flaws. Now, the remake attempts to change a few story elements about the ‘surprise ending,’ however, the plot is too similar to be considered its own unique entity. So obviously, this is the second type of remake; but as previously stated, this remake over-emphasizes the flaws of the original, but also, accentuates the problems that usually arise with a ‘Spike Lee joint.’
The problems with a ‘Spike Lee Joint’ are the tropes that have become a staple of his films: the terribly inappropriate music and the annoying shot selection. Constantly throughout, the background score is distractingly awful; the score is full of guitar riffs that only belong in a cheesy 80s movie. Never once did I think this weirdly unique story need a generic guitar riff: this just further proves my opinion that Spike Lee does not know how to use music in his movies. Also, his annoying signature shots plague the entire film; like Scorsese’s extreme close-up, I find Lee’s dolly shot to be extremely distracting and useless to the overall product. Yes, Spike Lee is not a diverse director and his tropes are key aspects of his movies, but I was willing to accept these things if Oldboy was competently made. However, it was not and the original’s awesome villain and ‘hammer scene’ is marred by the horrendous direction of Spike Lee.
Yes, the Oldboy remake had the ‘fanboy backlash’ to deal with; but I truly wanted this to be a good. Even my hatred for Spike Lee subsided with the hope that it would be, but in the end the audience is treated to one of the worst commercial remakes ever. Everything about this fails and the blame for this failure needs to be directed at Spike Lee. His lackluster direction results in a ‘half-assed atmosphere’ that curses every aspect of this remake. Perhaps most directors would have failed with this terrible script, but at the least, a different director could have given the remake an appealing visual style. And the little optimist in me even hopes that a different director would have ‘re-worked’ this ghastly script. But in the end, the general public is left with Spike Lee’s atrocity. This may sound like a cruel conclusion but this is not intended to be a malicious review. Again, I wanted Oldboy to work, but I would not wish the final product on my worst enemy.