(Those who have seen the original Oldboy (Chan-wook Park, 2003) need not worry about spoilers. If you haven't, be warned.)
While Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003)narrated its protagonist’s confinement portions in a flashback with voice-overs and brisk pacing, Spike Lee’s 2013 remake narrates these portions linearly – we discover things along with the protagonist Joe, the movie peels its layers gradually and situates us right in the middle of the action (or the lack of it, for 20 years of the Joe’s life.) The remake is a differently structured film, one whose emphasis is on the gloomy philosophical drama. Unlike Park’s stylistically charged movie; the aesthetic of Lee’s movie is immersed in its fundamental thematic concerns, rendering it more visceral than its predecessor. The pacing is gradual, the atmosphere ominous and the perspective clearer than that of Park’s movie. The scenes, especially those in which Joe is imprisoned, have a heightened impact.
It’s when the film keeps trying to hark back to and top the original that it’s at it its most desultory and rather pointless, be it the references to the octopus and a severed tongue; the climax reveal isn’t just an incestuous relationship between the pair of siblings but a farcical amped-up (complex!) version of the same. The antagonist is better characterized in Lee’s movie, but Sharlto Copley’s rendition of the character is particularly terrible. Or the action sequence where the protagonist bashes up dozens of guys to pulp, where the movie not only unsuccessfully attempts to top its predecessor, but also betrays its own tone that has been wonderfully set up by this point. Here, there are multiple “levels” to the scene instead of the single-shot virtuosity of the Korean counterpart, and the movie stops being the brooding tragedy that it is – the propelling background music adds a “cool” edge to the scene – and a sense of closure is the last thing the tone warrants at that point.
Lee’s Oldboy is somewhat bogged down by its urge to follow the original, extrapolating the brazen eccentricities that worked for its pulsating predecessor onto its own serious self, and there are moments of strange discordance. It’s a formal, tonally austere take on Park’s version. It recognizes the tragic undercurrents of the incoherent source and, in many ways if not all, works as an original and intriguing take on the source material.view less