By Shane M. Dallmann
Spike Lee vs. Spike TV. Spike Lee vs. Clint Eastwood. Spike Lee vs. Quentin Tarantino. Spike Lee vs. the fans (the Kickstarter thing). Spike Lee vs. The World. I’m weary of it. The man has a chip on his shoulder a mile wide and I highly doubt that we’d get along in person. But he DOES make very good movies.
OLD BOY (despite the IMdB listing, the title sequence rather insists that we’re dealing with two words here, and that suits me just fine) is the first Lee film presented to us as a “Film” as opposed to a “Joint.” And considering the drubbing he’s taking for it, he’s probably going to distance himself even further from it. And yet I tend to doubt there would have been such a backlash had this been an original film and not a remake of a notorious Korean revenge shocker from ten years ago?
I doubt anyone reading my reviews needs a rehash of the story at this point, and Lee’s OLD BOY sticks quite closely to the original scenario, with Lee’s approach simultaneously acknowledging the source film directly (a pointed stare at a live octopus in a restaurant tank can only mean one thing, though we know darn well Josh Brolin isn’t actually going to EAT it… though we DO get a pretty sick “Baby Jane” tribute during the lengthy incarceration sequence) and twisting it his own way here and there (I particularly liked the poster of the black bellhop with the demented smile decorating Brolin’s cell). The story itself (though edited down by nearly half an hour from Lee’s declared preferred cut) proceeds on course and hits all of the vital points without directly mimicking Park Chan-Wook’s work, as one might reasonably suspect. So one of the first questions is… do they do the hallway fight? Of course they do, but this time it’s stylized with fast motion bursts simulating the kung-fu films Brolin watches in his cell as he trains… it’s jarring at first, but the longer the scene goes on (and it does go on), the better it works.
And yes, they go all the way with the bone-crunching violence and the full story. The original story still packs a wallop, and if you doubt that, just ask the young man who was sitting across from me in the theatre… as the credits rolled, he staggered out mumbling “That’s messed up… that whole f’n movie… that’s messed up…” Sure, the specific denouement plays out a bit differently here, but it still works well enough in this new context.
The aging of Brolin over twenty years isn’t particularly convincing, but the actor certainly has the chops for the role, and you can say that for pretty much everyone in the cast, especially the enormously appealing Elizabeth Olsen as Marie. South African actor Sharlto Copley makes for a truly shuddery nemesis; Michael Imperioli is solid as Chucky the bartender, and you get another highly entertaining and menacing turn by Samuel L. Jackson as the jailer (he was offered any role he wanted in the script and took that one by the… er… throat. You’ll see…).
So. It’s a remake. Park was there first, and his movie is the one that set the gold standard. We don’t “need” an Americanization. But this is still a good story told with a good cast and put together by a good director. This is by no means a “bad movie.” It held my attention firmly even when I knew everything that was about to happen. So what more can I say? What more SHOULD I say? Your move.