Film Club: Oldboy (2013)

oldboy-2013-main-review

Film Club is an idea that I have been toying with for a while now. Originally it was a feature I was going to do on my own where once a month I would try to dissect a film, whether it be a renowned classic or something more modern. After a while though, I thought this was a feature best suited to multiple reviews, from various perspectives. With that I emailed a few fellow bloggers who were more than willing to get on board with the idea and help me out, and Film Club was born.

The rules of Film Club are:

1st Rule: You do not talk about Film Club.

2nd Rule: Ignore rule number 1, because I want everyone to talk about Film Club as much as possible.

3rd Rule: We don’t review cinema releases, as not everyone is always able to get to the cinema in time.

4th Rule: If the film is part of a franchise, then we must start with the first in series, i.e. we can’t review Terminator 2 before reviewing The Terminator.

5th Rule: We each take it in turns to pick a film for us all to review, and state our reasons why we picked it.

6th Rule: A score out of ten must be given to help form a general consensus on each film.

7th Rule: Each review can be no longer than 600 words.

8th Rule: No major spoilers allowed.

This month Natasha Harmer of Films and Things picked our film for the month and came up with quite a controversial pick in Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy. Below are Natasha’s reasons for picking the film, followed by her passionate review.

Films and Things:

I chose the Oldboy remake mainly because I felt like I needed a good reason to put myself through it and, slightly curious to see what a hash had been made of one of my favourite films of all time, what better excuse than this months Film Club? It’s a slightly controversial one, being a remake of a classic and I thought it’d make for an interesting post because it’s sure to divide opinions. Plus negative reviews are the most enjoyable to write and knowing this film would be shit I thought it was the perfect opportunity to have a bit of fun!

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A lot of film fans are reserved towards, if not totally opposed to, remakes of foreign films and generally there’s only a small handful of people out there (those no doubt too lazy to read subtitles) that would knowingly choose to watch the American remake of any foreign film over its original. In many cases foreign films get dumbed down when remade for English-speaking viewers and we end up with highly Americanized trash that lacks everything that made the original film so good. Spike Lee’s Oldboy is no exception.

For a start this film doesn’t know where in the world it is. If you’re an American looking to remake a Korean film, make it American and give it your own swing otherwise people may as well just watch the original film dubbed instead. It seems like Lee isn’t capable of doing this at all and we end up with some confused pile of crap that doesn’t know if it wants to be in Asia, America or England. I’m all for diversity in film don’t get me wrong, but if you’re going to take arguably one of the best Korean thrillers of all time, make it American but have the main character run around some China-town type place searching for the right dumplings then you’ve not only thrown all your creative credibility out the window but you’ve essentially proven that an American remake is completely unnecessary.

When I first heard about this remake there wasn’t even a hint of optimism in my mind. I knew that it’d be a complete let down and it was. I actually held off watching it until I had a good excuse (this month’s Film Club being the perfect excuse to force myself to watch it!) because I was so disappointed at the thought of someone stealing what I consider to be one of the best films I’ve ever seen and spewing America all over it. Like, can you not?!

Needless to say I was unsurprised that the film is shit. It goes from trying really hard to copy shots and settings from the original film, to totally avoiding getting into any of the gritty depth that made the original so brilliant. It lacks any of the atmosphere, and Josh Brolin’s performance as ‘Joe Doucett’ (which isn’t altogether bad, but my grudge against the film is preventing me from saying anything too positive) doesn’t even come close to Choi Min Sik’s Oh Dae-su in the Korean masterpiece. Throw in an annoying, eye roll inducing, ‘this guy is in everything’ type performance from Samuel L Jackson and a British villain with an annoying voice that’s enough to make English people like me embarrassed of their own accent, and there you have it, a Korean masterpiece torn apart and pissed all over by an American director too scared and insecure in his abilities as a creative to put his own stamp on it with enough confidence to make it even remotely worth watching.

Just another remake that’s not worth your time. Watch the original. Please.

Rating: 3/10

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What About The Twinkie?:

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy. It’s a serviceable enough film, but does little to really intrigue the viewer. Josh Brolin does good work as the man who’s been confined to a cell for 20 years, while Elizabeth Olsen is solid as the nurse who feels the need to help him after a random encounter. Samuel L Jackson pops up as a secondary villain with a hair cut he seemed to have brought with him from his time filming The Spirit. While Sharlto Copley hams up the villainy so much, he wouldn’t be out-of-place in a daytime soap opera. For the most part the cast are their usual dependable selves, but are let down by a plot that is far too overwrought in coincidence and a pacing that fails to excite, other than in a few key moments.

Spike Lee’s direction meanders for the most part, but there are a few keys scenes where he does thrill the viewer. There is a stand out scene featuring Josh Brolin taking on a raft of thugs in true badass style, while the twist end really does have you gripped and gave me a feeling in my stomach I don’t wish to have recreated anytime soon. The problem, for me, lies in a film that feels somewhat unnecessary and does little to stand out as anything other than a fairly bland thriller that is neither awful nor is it good, and is rather disappointingly average.

Rating: 5/10

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HC Movie Reviews:

Well, what can I say about Oldboy. This is a film that I am sure will inspire some controversy. I myself have not seen the original movie, and after watching this remake I can’t imagine I will find myself watching it anytime soon. For me Oldboy was one of those films which was really enjoyable for quite a long time however its ending simply undermines everything that it had achieved up to this point. I thought that the film had an air of tension that ran through it which I loved as I am a massive fan of thrillers. I also thought that the performances on offer were good. The plot itself was clever, it induces mystery and intrigue from the get go – much like the characters we are searching for answers too. This lends itself well to films as it allows you to get behind the characters too maybe more so than ones who have all the information that they need.

However, at times I thought the tone of the film was confusing; I am referring specifically to the fight scene with the hammer. I am aware that this is a throwback to the original movie so I can’t comment on that comparison. Although this scene follows a very serious and morbid torture scene and I found the fight sequence to be really gimmicky and for me it just confused the atmosphere of the film. Furthermore, my biggest issue that I have with this film is the themes that it deals with. I know that it isn’t fair to rate or slate a film because of its content and I am not doing that, I slate this film because of how it dealt with them. The themes present here are not ones often found in cinema. I personally thought that the film was far too vulgar in terms of these and there could have been more delicate ways to present them. However, as the whole film really depends on these themes I suppose it was never the intention to be delicate. Personally I was pretty disgusted by the film. The ending certainly makes the viewer feel something, it is a twist and a half however it isn’t one that I would ever want to watch again due to the sick nature of it. For me to have the whole film based around this was far too much, I have seen it used in other films as an addition to the plot and it can be done successfully however I just don’t see the point in creating a film completely devoted to this in the way it has been presented here.

This remake may be old in idea but boy was it too much for me, I doubt that the casual movie goer will enjoy this story. Oh and certainly not one for date night.

Rating: 3/10

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Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger:

So when Kieron popped it over to me that I was supposed to watch Oldboy, which really bumped the film up on my to watch list, as it is something I have wanted to watch since it came out last year, and since it was a remake of a movie that was made in 2003. Hardly enough time to have lapsed between to justify a remake, right? Since this was coming up, I figured I was watching it for Film Club and wanted an untainted view. Actually, it took me an age to decide if I should cram the original and remake in before writing this review, or just watch the 2013 one, or what. Ultimately I decided to watch the remake without having seen the original, going in blind, and having no expectations. The slew of bad reviews also set me up to not enjoy this. I must say, I seem to have liked the movie a hell of a lot more than most did, and I am wondering whether it was so disliked because the original was amazing or because this one was just lacking. Either way, me, I liked it. I am going to review this as a standalone, with no comparisons to the original, even if I watch it before this goes live for Film Club.

I loved the concept of Oldboy a lot, but I must admit that I am sure there were better ways to go about it. However, I couldn’t fault the casting. Josh Brolin played the role of brooding and bitter Joe well, and was really good when Joe was still the jackass. Michael Imperioli played his loyal friend Chucky well, and I liked him. Sharlto Copley impressed me endlessly with his portrayal of the mysterious antagonist that Joe is pitted against, and he really does freak a person out a bit, there is something that just isn’t right there. Definitely a better villain than when he played Agent Kruger (yes, that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – he is far more talented than that). Elizabeth Olsen’s Marie was also a nice character. She was a little broken, lived life a little differently, and was definitely trying for better in her life. She and Brolin worked off of each other pretty well, too, at the best of times.

The film was shot nicely. I thought it looked really pretty, and the brutal scenes that were littered across this film were put forth in a wonderful manner, I really liked that. However, there wasn’t much character development, and that is something that I missed in this movie – this is not to say that there was none, though. The story that was presented was confusing, and reveals slowly but surely as it progresses. In the third act, however, things start moving a lot faster, which doesn’t necessarily jibe well with the pace that was set before it, but it tells us a truly heartrending story. The plot twist was a big one, and really jangled around in my head. I didn’t see it coming, at any rate. Needless to say, even with the flaws that the film suffered, it was not deserving of the hate and the bad rap it got. Who knows, maybe my tune changes after I see the original, but without having anything to influence it with, I think that it was a decent flick.

Rating: 7/10

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Movie Rob:

Isn’t it interesting that the past three movies reviewed for this series have all been based on or somehow encouraged by Far East cinema. Star Wars has lots of Kurosawa influences (especially The Hidden Fortress) in it and both The Departed and Oldboy are English Language remakes of Oriental films. This is definitely an interesting choice for this month’s film club because from what I’ve seen online there are two very emotional “camps” of thought regarding this film.

The first group is people (like myself) who have heard about the original Korean version of this film and got to enjoy or semi-enjoy this remake. The second group is those who have seen the original and are completely disappointed as to how Spike Lee tore apart a good thing by creating this remake. We all know that it’s possible to remake a very good foreign film and even take home Oscar Gold by doing it right, but apparently Spike Lee is no Scorsese.

I actually think I made a mistake watching the remake first since because of certain plot points (I won’t go into detail here) that make me feel nauseous even when I think of them now won’t permit me to try to watch the original although it is supposedly excellent. (Maybe one day I’ll get the guts to do so or maybe even you good people can find a way to convince me to watch it).

When I watched and reviewed this movie back in March, I was still on a sorta high from watching it and not everything had yet to sink in.  Looking back on it after six months tho, I now realise everything that happened in the movie and on the one hand think the idea is incredible, but the way it was done just seems strange and shocking.

Josh Brolin probably wasn’t the best choice of lead actor here because he usually isn’t perceived as being an action hero type, but I think he did an ok job with what he was given. There is a rumor that Spike Lee’s original cut was an hour longer than the final cut.  I’m actually quite curious as to what he had to cut because there is a very interesting story that seems to actually be missing a lot in order to make it a much better film. The missing hour apparently deepens our understanding of the characters and their motivations and perhaps would enhance the viewing experience. Having said all that, my rating can only be based on what I’ve actually seen, so even though if we did this 6 months ago, my rating would be slightly higher, this time I need to follow my heart and give a rating that I feel this movie truly deserves.

Rating: 6/10

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Oracle of Film:

Spike Lee clearly loves the original Oldboy, as shown by some of the Easter eggs buried in this movie. An extra wears the angel wings Oh Dae-su bought his daughter in the original. The octopus scene (omitted in the remake) is referenced when Josh Brolin visits a Chinese restaurant with a fish tank. However, loving a treasured movie does not grant you the gravitas to remake that same movie and Spike Lee’s reboot ends up becoming a pointless re-treading of the same story we fell in love with a decade ago. At times, Lee does something worthwhile, like casting Samuel L. Jackson and slowing down the opening chapter, but he almost always follows that up with a tragic mistake. The easiest to point out is Shartlo Copley’s truly awful villain, who sucks all of the tragically romantic backstory of the character and replaces it with an English accent.

Everything on show here was just done so much better by Park Chan-sook in 2003. Certain shots are exact replicas of the original, but they accidentally trigger the longing for the older version in the audience. The fight scene feels watered down and Hollywood. Josh Brolin isn’t allowed to plunge to the depths that Park Chan-wook allowed Oh Dae-su to go to. Even that twist, which blew my mind when I watched the original, felt contrived, as if it was just a twist to stick to the end of a movie, rather than a trick Spike Lee had up his sleeve from the very start. I guess Oldboy isn’ta bad movie, directed and acted well for the most part, but it is a pointless remake of a story that didn’t need remaking. Nothing new is brought to the table and I leave a little disappointed.

Rating: 3/10

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The Narrator:

What is the point of a remake? To bring an old and possibly aging story to a new generation? To completely reinvent how the original was told in the first place? Or perhaps, like so many would say, it is simply a way to make an easy profit at the box office. For every Scarface or Cape Fear, there is almost certainly a dozen Stepford Wives or Psycho. So where does Spike Lee’s Oldboy come into the mix? Made just ten years after the Korean cult classic of the same name, opinions were certainly divided after its release. After seeing it for the first time this week, I know which side I’m on.

A huge factor that contributes to my enjoyment of any film is when a story takes its time to develop its protagonist. Josh Brolin’s performance of the selfish businessman Joe is hammered into you throughout the opening scenes, ensuring that you simply cannot like his sleazy character. Suddenly, he is imprisoned by unknown forces for twenty years. Within this twenty year period (the opening third of the film), we see a real man change. We see his struggles, his hopes, and his ambitions. I honestly could have watched Josh Brolin in this room for an hour, as his performance, matched with a slowly developing story, was captivating. More so than the original in my mind. When it comes the time that the film moves on from Joe’s cell, we as an audience are completely behind him, motivated and excited for what is coming next. It was clear to me that this film was really trying to improve upon its namesake, and that was something I truly admired.

Unfortunately, following Brolin’s release, the film loses its identity, as it falls back to its predecessor’s pace. While the opening sets a tone slightly different to the original, with more development, the rest of the film plays out more or less the same. The problem is, if you have seen the original, all sense of tension disappears. Yet I could not help but think that had I not been aware of the original’s existence, I would had remained just as captivated for the entire running time.

There is solid support from Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharlto Copley, but their characters are shallow and frustrating at times, while additional scenes such as Brolin beating up a football team seems seriously out-of-place. This to me represents an editing job where all too much may still be lying on the cutting room floor. Rumours of a three-hour cut have been thrown about and if it is ever released, I will be getting it. If there is a cut that gives the supporting characters a chance to truly live through their characters as Josh Brolin was able to, I think that could be the definitive cut that surpasses even its predecessor.

In conclusion, Spike Lee’s Oldboy is a flawed but impressive remake which I would definitely recommend to anyone who has not already seen the original. It packs in the same themes and truly shocking finale. Its epilogue may soften the original’s harder blow, but it remains effective. It could have, and should have been given a chance to breathe a little more, but maybe we’ll see it in full one day. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 7/10

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Overall rating: 4.9/10

General consensus: If ever you want to spark a debate among film fans then ask them their thoughts on a remake of a beloved classic. Oldboy 2013 seems to split people between those who have seen the original, and dislike the remake, and those who have viewed the remake without any prior knowledge of the 2003 original and can get a little more enjoyment out of it.

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22 thoughts on “Film Club: Oldboy (2013)

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Check out what a bunch of us thought about Oldboy (2013) for this month’s Film Club. Thanks to Kieron for organizing this and for Natasha for choosing this movie

    1. Awesome reviews all round 😀
      Definitely would recommend watching the original, it just has this certain magic about it. Although admittedly once you know the twist it’s not quite as amazing, I was less impressed the second time I saw it.

    1. Ha! It’s not an altogether bad film, I still haven’t seen the original, but it just didn’t hook me like it could have. Perhaps it will benefit from further viewings?

  2. I think this was one of the better film clubs. There is something satisfying about pouring out your dislike of a film onto paper. I also loved how certain people slated it and then others praised it.

  3. Great work here from everyone! This one really had people divided, which is awesome. I think not knowing what the original was even about helped me a lot to just take this as something fresh and new! Will see if my opinion changes after watching the 2003 film eventually. I love Film Club!

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