Oldboy (2013)

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1993, alcoholic advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) ruins a meeting with a potential client, Daniel Newcombe (Lance Reddick), by hitting on his girlfriend. Afterwards, Joe gets drunk, and goes to a bar owned by his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli ), who refuses him entry. While stuck outside, he spots a woman with a yellow umbrella, before being knocked unconscious.

He awakens in an isolated hotel room and finds he is a prisoner. His captors provide him with basic hygiene items and meager portions of processed Chinese food, along with a pint of vodka with every meal to prevent withdrawal. Through the TV, Joe hears that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife and that his daughter, Mia, has been adopted. After being prevented from committing suicide, Joe starts writing Mia letters, gives up drinking, and spends the next 20 years planning his revenge. He becomes a skilled boxer by watching televised matches, and compiles a list of everyone who might be responsible for his imprisonment, with Newcombe being the prime suspect.

In 2013, Joe watches an adult Mia being interviewed by a TV show called “Unresolved Mysteries of Crime”, and claiming she’d be willing to forgive him if he returns. Suddenly, he is drugged and awakes in a box in a field, with money and a cell phone. He spots the woman with the yellow umbrella, whom he chases to a nearby clinic; there he meets Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen), a nurse who offers to help him. Joe refuses help but takes her card. He later visits Chucky and tells him what happened. He receives a mocking phone call from the mastermind behind his imprisonment, The Stranger (Sharlto Copley). After learning Newcombe died in a plane crash, Joe investigates the other names on his list, and learns they are all innocent. He eventually passes out from dehydration, and Chucky calls Marie, who gives Joe medical treatment.

Marie reads the letters Joe has written for Mia and offers to help him. With her, Joe is able to locate the restaurant that provided the food he was given in captivity and follows a man who arrives to take a large order to an abandoned factory, which is where he was held captive. Joe confronts the owner, Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson), and tortures him into giving him a taped conversation in which he discusses the terms of Joe’s imprisonment with The Stranger. Joe is then forced to fight off all of Chaney’s men, one of whom stabs him in the back. Joe then returns to Chucky’s bar, where he meets The Stranger himself and his bodyguard Haeng-Bok, the woman with the yellow umbrella, who has kidnapped Mia.

The Stranger claims that if Joe is able to discover his real identity and his motives for imprisoning Joe, he will not only release Mia but also give Joe proof of his innocence along with $20 million in diamonds. He also promises to shoot himself while allowing Joe to watch. After The Stranger leaves, Joe rushes to Marie’s house and saves her from Chaney and his men. Marie digitally identifies The Stranger’s ringtone as being the theme song of Joe’s college, and, through a yearbook, Joe is able to determine that The Stranger’s real name is Adrian Pryce. Back when they were classmates, Joe saw Adrian’s sister Amanda having sex with an older man and mentioned it to many students at the college. The man was later revealed to be Adrian and Amanda’s father, who was having incestuous relationships with them both. Shortly afterward, Adrian’s father murdered his wife and Amanda, attempted to murder Adrian, and then committed suicide. Adrian, the sole survivor, blamed Joe and swore revenge against him.

Joe hides Marie in a motel, where they have sex, while Adrian finds and kills Chucky. Joe later goes to Adrian’s penthouse and kills Haeng-Bok. Adrian congratulates Joe on discovering the truth. Then Adrian reveals to Joe that “Mia” is actually an actress on his payroll and that Joe’s real daughter is Marie. Horrified by what Adrian has engineered him to do, Joe begs for death, but Adrian instead gives him the diamonds and, having exacted his revenge, commits suicide. Joe writes Marie a letter, stating they can never meet again, and leaves her all but a few of the diamonds, which he gives to Chaney in exchange for returning to captivity—supposedly for the rest of his life.

REVIEW:

In 2003, a Korean film was released that went on to be revolutionary in terms of horror and thrillers. That film was Oldboy. Fast forward 10 years and we get a US remake by acclaimed thriller director Spike Lee (note the sarcasm there). I am by no means a fan of Lee’s, but I will try to keep this objective as best I can.

What is this about?

After being unaccountably held captive for years, Joe Doucett is suddenly released. Now, his only mission is to hunt down and punish his captors. Aided by a young stranger, he sets about unlocking his past in this remake of a popular Korean thriller.

What did I like?

Violence. I’m not a fan of films that go out of their way to show blood, guts and gore, unless it is done in a comedic and over the top way such as Machete, for instance. In an effort, to keep the spirit of the original, Lee left in the bloody violence, at least a part of it, even though American audiences seem to squirm at the mere sight of blood, if you go by the watered down versions of films we’ve been getting these days. Thank goodness someone realized that American audiences aren’t as sensitive as they are perceived to be.

Torture. Staying in that same general vein, there is a scene in which Josh Brolin’s character tortures Samuel L. Jackson. Yeah, its a torture scene, big deal, right? Well, this is something to take note of because Brolin has him tied down to a table and rather than chop his head off, he carves out chunks of skin, slowly but surely, and then takes a can of salt and dashes it on the wounds. Talk about painful!!! After he gets his information, he washes away with some water, but damn, that had to hurt!

Witch in training. Elizabeth Olsen is primed for a real breakout couple of years with some of the projects she has lines, most notable The Avengers: Rise of Ultron, but I was wondering what it is that qualifies her for such lofty roles. I got my answer watching her in this. From what I gather, she is quite the capable actress. able to convey a wide range of emotions to the audience and she’s not bad looking either. I find her to be a mix between Maggie Gyllenhaal, that chick on Bates Motel (her name escapes me right now), and her obviously less talented sisters. I won’t go so far as to say her performance saved this film, but she is a reason to watch.

What didn’t I like?

Pacing. I honestly don’t think this film could have started any slower. After a brief introduction to our protagonist and his downward spiral, we are shown him in this one room eating chicken and dumplings with vodka for 20 years. 20 years in the same room! I get stir crazy sitting in the same room for 20 minutes, I can only imagine what 20 years was like. That’s beside the point, though, as this could have very easily been done in montage form, pausing now and then to show the pain anguish he was facing, rather than dragging on and on as it does.

Incest is best. The recurring theme of incest is a bit much for me, partly because this is the second film in a row that has dealt with it. Now, I will say if I’d been stuck in a room for 20 yrs and then this hot young thing threw herself at me, I’d have done the same thing that Brolin’s character does to her. As far as he knew, she was just another girl. Hindsight gave me cause to pause on that, though. It is the tragic story of our antagonist’s motives that got me. His dad was having sex with his daughter at some school dance or something and got caught. I can imagine that would be something that would change a man, but damn.

Scaled back. I can’t remember if I’ve seen the original Oldboy or not. I want to say that I have, but I’m not 100% sure. At any rate, I know that this film doesn’t work on the same levels as its source material. There is a dark, menace to that film that isn’t as prevalent with this picture. I attribute that to Lee’s directing. A more accomplished director would have been able to pull it off, but instead we get a watered down version of the original, in the same vein as the 1998 version of Psycho, which was a word for word, shot by shot remake. It didn’t get the best of receptions, either.

In conclusion, Oldboy is a departure for Lee. Believe it or not, there are no racist undertones in this film at all. As a matter of fact, I believe this is most unethnic cast he has used, which is odd for him. This is not my usual genre of film, and my disdain for Lee did not make this any more enjoyable. That being said, this is not a totally unbearable film, but I do think you’d be better served watching the original.

2 out of 5 stars

 

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