Movie Review ~ Oldboy (2013)

The Facts

Synopsis: Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.

Stars: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, James Ransone, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff

Director: Spike Lee

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’m always amazed when a director with an impressive list of credits lines up a remake as their next project.  Some directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, remade their OWN films and that practice still happens occasionally today with a foreign director helming an American version of the film they popularized on their home soil.  Then there are the directors that take on Hollywood studio adaptations of foreign products for American audiences.

For me, I get the impression that these US directors choose these foreign films to remake as a way to say “This was good but I can do it better”– though they very rarely can.  If anything, they wind up creating a film that’s just as good but can exist in the same universe as their overseas counterpart as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  That film was a tremendous success in Sweden and had David Fincher as a director when it jumped shores…both films are impressive and I’d watch them back to back if the spirit moved me to do so.

It’s strange, then, that Oldboy even happened at all.  Nearly a decade old when discussions for the remake began, it’s easy I suppose to see why it attracted the attention of Hollywood and director Spike Lee.  The 2003 original, Oldeuboi, had amassed a certain fervent fan base in America thanks to an impressively twisted narrative, strong performances, and skilled direction from Park Chan-wook (Stoker) which bumped it to a level of sophistication that set it apart from its more minor peers.

Lee has been a troublesome director as of late, known more for his ranting outbursts toward fellow filmmakers than he was for making some important films in the early 90’s.  With a flagging career and a penchant for taking forever to finish his work, the revenge thriller Oldboy seemed almost too easily commercial for the director to latch onto.

If Lee had done something, anything, of interest with the material then I could maybe get behind an argument for this remake moving forward.  Though the film does have some classic Lee elements on the technical side, it’s lacking the depth that he’s brought to his earlier efforts like Do the Right Thing and more recent work like documentaries surrounding the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  His work in Oldboy winds up feeling like a director-for-hire and it permeates every level of the film.

It’s a shame, then, that Josh Brolin (Labor Day, Men in Black III) is so good in the leading role of a man without scruples that’s abducted and held in confinement for twenty years by an unseen captor.  It’s within these shoddy walls that he watches a television news report where he finds himself the number one suspect in his wife’s death.  With his young daughter in foster care and his life seemingly over, there’s not much more for him to do but wait to die…until he awakes one day in a field, free.  Or so it seems.

Up until the man is released the film follows the original quite closely.  It’s after Brolin is let loose that the film takes an approach that favors more explanation than necessary and less of the ominous mystery surrounding a menacing caller employed to good effect in the original.  In Brolin’s quest for answers to why he was held, there’s still a plethora of well staged fight sequences with one of the central passages of the original being recreated, Spike Lee-style, with sweeping cranes that allow little to no cuts in action.

The violence is way more visceral in the remake and that’s where Lee lets down the film a bit.  It’s as if Lee needed to justify Brolin’s revenge by allowing him to enact sadistic acts of violence toward anyone/everyone that may have been involved only remotely.  That didn’t work for me…especially when Brolin is cutting sliver sized chunks of flesh from the neck of an Oscar nominated actor in a wacky cameo role.

A Florence Nightgale-like nurse played by a sleepy-looking Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) is an unlikely ally for Brolin and her involvement with him never makes a whole lot of sense.  He’s bad news and she can tell but either she loves a charity case or chunks of her storyline were excised in order to speed the film along.  (Side note: the 105 minute film was cut down from a reported three hours, perhaps a director’s cut will give the film more shape).  Sharlto Copley’s role is one I can’t go into much detail on but Copley (Elysium, Europa Report) winds up doing a great disservice with a cartoony performance in what could have been a much more engaging role.

Screenwriter Mark Protosevich gets points for largely keeping this remake in alignment with the events of the original film…including its controversial dénouement.  I’d also say that while the ending winds up looking poles apart than its inspiration, what Protosevich lands on could arguably be called the very same ending just under different circumstances.

If you’ve never seen the original film Oldboy is based on, I’d guess you’d find yourself mostly engaged in this revenge crime drama which, faults aside, is quite well made and executed.  Fans of the original also shouldn’t be concerned that their precious film has been tarnished nor should they riot at some of the changes employed here.  Still…it’s a remake that didn’t need to happen.

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Movie Review ~ Oldboy {Oldeuboi} (2003)

The Facts

Synopsis: After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in 5 days.

Stars: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang

Director: Park Chan-wook

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  The need for revenge is an impulse that has driven the plot of many a movie throughout the history of cinema.  It’s a great device really, because with audiences being able to relate to the urge to give someone their due, it preloads the characters with all the necessities we’ll require to feel like they’ve received their pound of flesh when the film is over.  I’ve seen a lot of revenge films in my time and though this impressive 2003 South Korean isn’t the most violent one I’ve seen, it wound up leaving a lasting impression on me long after the final comeuppance was dealt.

Opening in 1988 with Oh Dae-Sue (Min-sik Choi) being abducted one rainy night after he passes out in a drunken stupor, the film wastes no time in getting things moving.  Confined in a room that looks straight out of the motel chic décor of the best room at the Bates motel, Oh Dae-Su has no clue why he’s being held or by whom.  In the days that follow a lone television broadcasts the news that his wife has been murdered and his young daughter taken into foster care…all the while he’s helpless to do anything.  Over the next fifteen years, he’s taken care of with sustenance but deprived of any human contact.  Watching the years tick away courtesy of the omini-present television, his entire existence becomes one with the room until the day he’s drugged and simply set free…or so it seems.

With a Good Samaritan beauty by his side and through a series of twisty clues left by a mysterious caller, Oh Dae-Sue’s nightmare isn’t over yet as each secret he uncovers leads him deeper down into a hell he could never imagine.  The final answer given is a true game-changer and one that neither he, nor the audience, can really see coming.  In the dirty game of revenge, sometimes the player becomes the game maker without ever even knowing it.

Writer/director Park Chan-wook made his US debut in 2013 with Stoker (which made my Best of 2013 list) and he brought to that film the same dreamy quality and well-oiled technique that makes Oldboy so intensely watchable.  Several fight sequences are jaw-dropping in their creativity not just in the high flying, bone crunching moves but in the way the director either keeps the camera in constant motion or simply tracks the actors like a tennis match.  It’s never hard to follow and it’s overwhelming in all the good ways.

Min-sik Choi shows remarkable range as the tormented, tortured soul Oh Dae-Sue.  Not yet 40 years old when the film was made he has an old soul look and feel which only grows more set in after his 15 years of solitude.  The journeyman actor also headlined another popular revenge film, 2010’s sleep-with-the-lights-on inducing I Saw the Devil, where he played a truly terrifying serial killer that meets his match when he dispatches the fiancé of the wrong police detective.  I wonder what Choi’s characters from Oldboy and I Saw the Devil would do if they were in the same film together…

It’s easy to see why the film is regarded as a not-so-minor classic in the foreign film arena.  With its labyrinthine plot twists, skilled direction, and masterful lead performance Oldboy is never less than compulsively entertaining and positively haunting.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Heaven is for Real


Synopsis: A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.

Release Date:  April 16, 2014

Thoughts:  The good news here is that this isn’t a sequel to Greg Kinnear’s dreadful 1996 “comedy” Dear God.  No, Heaven is for Real looks like the kind of PG-rated schmaltz that won’t do much harm should you happen to find yourself at the theater with nothing to take your mom to.  These heavenly movies can be a bit weighty; sacrificing story and character development for the pushing of a message the filmmakers are hell-bent on getting across.  Kinnear is a likable actor but has never been someone that demands attention from audiences so it’s nice to see the more interesting Kelly Reilly (snubbed for a Best Supporting Actress last year for her work in Flight) on board as Kinnear’s wife.  Aiming to inspire, I’m interested to see if Heaven is for Real can find a balance in its lofty message without resorting to cheap tearjerker ploys.