Spike Lee’s remake of the horrific 2003 Korean revenge flick Oldboy opened yesterday, and–mainly due to comparisons to Chan-wood Park’s masterful original–the reviews have not been great. On Rotten Tomatoes right now it’s got a rating of 44%, with 50 “rotten” (negative) reviews and 40 “fresh” (positive) ones.
I was one of the critics who chose rotten, although I also gave it a rating of 3 out of 5, which–if my calculations are correct–works out to 60%. So I didn’t hate it. Not like all the horror flicks you’ll find here.
I just didn’t think it was all that special.
One thing that bugged me about Lee’s version was that he didn’t even bother recreating the scene where where actor Min-sik Choi, playing the film’s bent-outta-shape protagonist Dae-su Oh, eats a live octopus at a sushi bar.
Pretty nutzoid, am I right? Yeah, yeah–I know the PETA peeps aren’t gonna be thrilled by that scene. But I haven’t seen any clinical studies that prove octopuses (octopi?) feel pain. And don’t we boil lobsters alive? Plus, actor Oh did apologize to the unfortunate Mr. Octy beforehand, if that counts.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes clip of the freaky footage being shot. I like the part at the two-minute mark where the whole idea of chomping on a wriggling, squishy sea creature just gets too much for Choi, causing him to laugh out loud.
Here’s my review:
Hard-core fans of the original Oldboy likely had two main concerns about the 2003 South Korean shocker’s Hollywood remaking. They probably wondered why anyone would screw with the ultraviolent masterpiece in the first place. And also why—when the flick had Tarantino written all over it—Spike Lee was doing the screwing.
Josh Brolin gamely tackles the lead role of alcoholic advertising exec Joe Doucett, who, after blowing a big sale by being a sleazy prick, goes on a bender and wakes up in what looks like a hotel room but is actually a private prison. He is forced to survive on a steady diet of fried dumplings, his only diversion the TV on which he numbly watches world events—and the report of his ex-wife’s rape and murder, for which he is accused.
Five years into his confinement, Doucett spies his now eight-year-old daughter on the tube and vows to change his dickhead ways and “be a father” to her, so he starts working out and plotting an escape. Fifteen years and a million sit-ups later, he’s primed to kick ass, so when he’s finally released in the middle of a city park he has no problem beating the living snot out of six football players.
With help from a social worker (Elizabeth Olsen) and his old bar-owner friend (Michael Imperioli), Doucett sets out to track down and punish those responsible for his 20 lost years. The movie bottoms out performance-wise when he gruesomely tortures his former jailer, played by Samuel L. Jackson playing himself. Thankfully, he stops short of screaming: “I have had it with these motherfuckin’ chunks out of my motherfuckin’ neck!”
Doucett eventually confronts the urbane puppetmaster behind it all (Sharlto Copley), who turns things around so that the apparent victim must uncover the reason for his own imprisonment—and, more importantly, his release. Things get pretty far-fetched before the mysteries are revealed and the big twist twisted, but my biggest complaint is that Lee totally skipped the original film’s live-octopus-eating scene.
That’s way more fun to watch than a dumb old hammer to the head.