Oldboy | Film review – Silly not startling: Spike Lee’s revenge thriller remake proves a pallid copy

Oldboy - James Brolin

Josh Brolin’s boozy New York adman is put through a twisted ordeal by an unknown enemy in Spike Lee’s grisly revenge thriller Oldboy, a disappointing Hollywood remake of South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s head-spinning, gut-churning, darkly comic 2003 film. Held captive in a private prison for no apparent reason, Brolin’s protagonist is finally released after 20 years and given the task of solving the mystery of his incarceration.

The bigger mystery, though, is what Lee thought he was doing making such a pallid copy of an acclaimed original. He slavishly follows his predecessor’s plot but shies away from reproducing some of its most unforgettable moments (the live octopus eating, for example), while reducing the impact of the ones he retains – such as the scene in which the hammer-wielding ‘hero’ lays waste to an army of assailants in a narrow corridor.

Add to this a pair of grotesquely over-the-top villainous turns by Sharlto Copley and Samuel L Jackson and the story seems silly rather than startlingly perverse. Park Chan-wook’s movie was a delirious nightmare whose ideas and images stuck like burrs in the mind. Lee’s remake is all too forgettable.


Certificate 18. Runtime 104 mins. Director Spike Lee.

Released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 7th April by Universal Pictures.


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