Oldboy 2013: A Necessary Remake Gone Wrong [FQ13 #139]


Among film enthusiasts, a popular opinion is to say that a great foreign film doesn’t need a remake simply to introduce it to English-speaking audiences. I disagree with that sentiment, so you can rest assured that’s not the reason I thought Spike Lee’s remake of OLDBOY was vastly inferior to its Korean predecessor. I was prepared to really like the Josh Brolin vehicle, and was looking forward to finding the areas which the American version diverged from the one I saw back in January, which I rated highly.

What I was presented by Spike Lee was a poorly-written film with performances which didn’t live up to the talents of the actors involved. Their actions, motivations, curiosities (or lack thereof) and (in some cases) skillsets miss the mark in quite a few scenes throughout a movie that almost assumes the viewer has already seen the Korean version. At times, the way this film explained things was better than its predecessor, but those times were few and far between.


Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Memorable Performances: There weren’t any good performances outside of Elizabeth Olsen, and even hers was just decent.

Potential Nominations for Film Quest ’13:  

  • NONE

Favorite Parts: The part where he’s trying the various dumplings, the attempt from Spike Lee to recreate the hallway scene in an interesting way, and the nod to the original film’s octopus scene.


The Regrettable Aspects: It’s hard to decide where to start, but I’ll go with the performances, because it’s the line-up of actors that helped make me think my interest in this film was going to pay off, but it didn’t. Josh Brolin should have been a great focal point of this film, but in the beginning of the film, he fails to hit the mark, with his acting being too exaggerated and unrealistic. There are subtleties he could’ve included which would’ve fixed those short-comings, but it seems that Spike Lee didn’t seek those out. Throughout the second act, I really never felt the desperation which should’ve been plastered all over Brolin’s character, and when the third act culminates, his acting was so regrettable that I almost felt like I was watching a high school musical performance (and I’m not talking Zac Efron here, I mean actual 15-to-18-year-olds in an auditorium). Sharlto Copley, who has been great in some of his other roles (namely District 9) was sub-par here. Absolutely sub-par, to the point where I’m not sure how Spike Lee decided he liked what he was seeing. As I mentioned before, Elizabeth Olsen did a good job with her performance, but my issue with that character stems from how it’s written with such little depth.

Another regrettable aspect of this film is the fact that people are being told that the ending to Spike Lee’s film is the same as the Korean version. It’s not. It’s significantly different, and although I’m maligning Spike Lee’s film considerably, it was still an above-average film even with all the short-comings, and in some ways I prefer the American version’s ending to the Korean version’s, though stylistically the final 15 minutes of Spike Lee’s version falls WAY short in a few ways.


Would I watch it again? I will watch it again when it hits Netflix Instant, and on DVD / Blu-ray when Spike Lee’s Director’s Cut is made available, most likely to watch it with friends of mine who might be partially interested. I highly doubt I’d even consider seeing it in the theater again.

To Whom Would I Recommend It?  To the people who have enjoyed the Korean version, they owe it to themselves to see this version. People who like some of the thrillers listed below and haven’t seen the Korean version should see this film. Expectations should be lowered. It’s an above average film, but it’s not likely to be on anyone’s “favorites” list.

Other Recommendations:

– THE GAME – An above-average psychological thriller with some similarities to OLDBOY but is certainly a better film.

– AMERICAN PSYCHO – An under-appreciated psychological thriller which displays a type of deluded and imbalanced desperation which Joe Doucet should’ve displayed in OLDBOY.

– David Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – A strong mystery / thriller which had some gritty moments and a somewhat similar tone to what OLDBOY seemed to be attempting, but DRAGON TATTOO was far superior at what it accomplished.

If you’ve got recommendations for alternatives to OLDBOY, or for other similar films, let me know!

Next up…  another six-pack!


2 responses to “Oldboy 2013: A Necessary Remake Gone Wrong [FQ13 #139]

  1. Good review bud. While it doesn’t rank-up well against the awesome original, it still takes some very interesting steps that only Spike Lee, and Spike Lee alone could get away with taking.

    • Thanks Dan! I’m looking forward to the 3-hour director’s cut, because apparently Josh Brolin was about as happy with the theatrical version as I was. Still entertaining on some level, but tons of room for improvement.

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