Touted as a “re-imagining,” going back to the original source material (aka The Japanese manga), Spike Lee’s OLDBOY is a mixed bag with a number of pros, but an equal amount of cons as well.
Even though the movie deserves to be reviewed on its own merits, it’s impossible not to compare it to Park Chanwook’s masterpiece. The plot is similar in many ways, so instead of rehashing it here, just click back a day and read the synopsis from the 2004 version.
Here’s the pros: Screenwriter Mark Protosevich (I AM LEGEND, THE CELL) has done a terrific job of clarifying the storyline and streamlining it to strengthen the themes better. Chanwook’s version uses fantastical elements that sometimes muddy the message in the original (but surprisingly not to the film’s detriment) while Protosevich’s script has a more grounded feel. This is a big plus for Lee’s take on the material.
Here’s the cons: The tone of the film is all over the place, ranging from gritty reality to just plain over-the-top excess. This generates more from the direction than the writing. Characters feel like they are in completely different films. The most egregious being Sharito Copley’s Adrian. He feels like he just stepped from the set of THE HUNGER GAMES and his performance borders on “mustache-twirling.”
The movie also feels devoid of any of Lee’s signature style and like the tone, is inconsistent. What’s most disappointing is the handling of the infamous “hammer/hallway” scene. The sequence is a hallmark of the original film for its audaciousness. In Lee’s hands it could (and should) have been completely excised from the film because it just sticks out like a sore thumb. It has the feel of a scene from a Jackie Chan film with the extras being obviously portrayed by stuntmen. The sequence goes on and on (apparently it was even longer) and the logic that not one of the guards carries a gun is just plain ludicrous.
My biggest gripe is that missing most in the film is the affecting impact of the ending. I just wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters, so the twist lands with more of a thud than a heartbreaking blow.
The movie has some merits and I’m sure if you haven’t seen the original that you might be taken in by it. Just promise me if you see Lee’s version first that you will take a look at Chanwook’s and see how deftly this story can be handled.