Oldboy: What You Need To Know
Those who remember Korean director Chan-Wook Park’s 2003 film Oldboy will remember a dark, taut thriller packed with intrigue that retained all the edge and mystery of the comic-book series it was based on. Ten years on, next week sees the release of the Hollywood remake. Here’s everything you need to know…
Who’s in it?
The 2013 incarnation of Oldboy sees Spike Lee taking up residence in the director’s chair, while Josh Brolin takes on the lead role. There are also appearances from Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson. Lee probably wouldn’t like us calling the film a ‘remake’ though: having stated that he didn’t want to remake park’s film, the director has gone back to the original Manga stories and reinterpreted them in his own inimitable way.
What’s the plot?
Joe Doucett (Brolin) awakes in what looks like a hotel room, only to gradually discover it is in fact a prison cell, one he will spend the next 20 years incarcerated in, without ever knowing why or how he got there. He never sees his captors, with food being passed to him through a hatch in the door and only a television set for company. Through the TV news he learns that he is the prime suspect in an investigation into the murder of his wife.
Then, suddenly, one day he is inexplicably freed, waking up in a suitcase in the middle of a field. Joe embarks on a vengeful quest to find out who locked him up and why, but discovers that his problems are far from over when his daughter is kidnapped, apparently by the very same people who locked him up.
Despite Spike Lee’s assertions that this is not a ‘remake’, there are one or two nods to the original film, such as the scene where Doucett buys a pair of angel wings for his daughter, as well as the octopus sitting in a tank in Chaney’s office which, unlike the original, stays unconsumed by Brolin’s protagonist.
Does it deliver?
For many fans of Park’s 2003 film the answer to this question was always going to be a no, but that’s a problem that any remake is going to suffer from. In the case of Oldboy, there are a couple of additional challenges to overcome. Firstly, the original film is the second in a trilogy, whereas Lee’s version is a standalone story. Add that to the fact that both the original film and the comic books it was based on are set in a very different cultural context, then throw in some die-hard fans who are ready to boycott the film before a single frame has been shot, and you’re looking at a project that was always going to be tricky from the outset.
However, if you are able to suspend your loyalty to the original for a moment, Spike Lee has actually done a very decent job of reframing the story for a western audience. Hollywood’s other recent attempts to remake Asian horror films have had some very mixed results, from the disappointing The Ring to the box-office-smashing The Hunger Games (loosely based on Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale) and in the grand scheme of things Lee’s attempt isn’t bad at all. Brolin is engaging and intense in the lead role while Copley’s performance as the villain is a bit of a show-stealer.
If you haven’t seen the original, if you don’t like foreign language films, or if you found the original film’s sequences – such as the eating a live octopus – a little too disturbing, then you’ll find the film very absorbing. Some will be unable to suspend their prejudice against the remaking of pretty recent Asian horror flicks, particularly a classic like Oldboy, but if you’re willing to keep an open mind then this is well worth a look.
Oldboy is available in hmv stores from Monday April 7th