Thursday, May 1, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Oldboy

2013, Spike Lee (Jungle Fever, Malcom X) -- download

This goes to show that, as you get older, time gets all messed up and bent out of shape. When I think about the original Korean Oldeuboi I remember a seminal movie in my arthouse exposure, something from my deep past that astounded and amazed me. What? It was only 2003? I was already jaded and bored and moaning my lack of movie watching by then. Hrrmph. So, more likely it was a breath of fresh air in my viewing habits. And I saw it here in TO.

So, ten years later Spike Lee comes along with a pretty faithful remake of the original, with a few tweaks to the story here and there, along with the Americanization. We are told the jarring story of a business man kidnapped and confined to a small room for 20 (15 originally) years. Act one is all about his life inside the room, dressed to look like a crappy hotel room. He is fed dumplings, vodka and occasionally gassed & shaved. He doesn't know who took him or why. He goes from despair to self-realization, transforming dumpy 30ish salesman into bulky, musclebound 50s over the 20 years. Act two is about him escaping and recreates the stylish, almost jarring, combat scene of a man with a hammer single-handedly taking down dozens of (mysteriously dressed in 80s thug regalia) mooks. Act three wraps up a disturbing story about why he was taken and the revenge the two took on each other. They retain the somewhat shocking (we so jaded in GoT era) final reveal of the movie.

This begs the standard remake question -- if you are going to remain so faithful to the original, why remake? Ignoring the standard answer of "Americans won't watch subtitles" (as neither of these movies, nor Spike Lee, are for most Americans) I saw it as an act of artful recreation. Spike Lee may have done this as much for himself, as for the money and repertoire. His signature 80s & 90s films have faded in most minds (was Red Hook Summer an attempt to remind us?) and he could approach this one as an experiment with style & story. I think he was mostly successful, but when you read some of the material around the making of the movie (often bemoaned producer tampering), I don't think he would agree.  He should have been allowed to be even more stylish, more crazy Samuel L Jackson and Sharlto Copley characters. Finally, I have to commend Elizabeth Olsen, the youngest Olsen sister, who I only knew as "another scarily thin Hollywood actress" who was very dressed down for her role.