Writer: Mark Protosevich
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli
Running time: 104mins
The lowdown: After languishing in a single cell Development Hell for almost a decade, Old Boy finally gets its English language makeover. And the reaction is one of relief. Director Spike Lee’s take on the tale of a man inexplicably incarcerated for decades and then set free to solve the mystery loses the power of the Korean original, but is a good story briskly and brutally told. Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson are the oddballs in Lee’s bizarre and violent world and for fans of the original, yes, the claw hammer does return.
The full verdict: This is not the world’s first Old Boy remake. Zinda, a 2006 Bollywood version, was efficient, forgettable and replaced the original’s shocks with more palatable thrills. If that oft-mooted Steven Spielberg/Will Smith adaptation had been made, Zinda would have been its template.
Writer Mark Protosevich manages not to screw up this adaptation the way he did Will Smith’s I Am Legend. He and director Spike Lee stay truer to the thorny plot twists of Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece, even if the cameo’ing live squid in this movie gets away uneaten.
Josh Brolin, never an actor to turn down a challenge, jumps feet first into the role of Joe Doucett. As a boorish, overgrown spoiled brat (a literal old boy), imprisoned in a locked hotel room for 20 years, Brolin does a suitably crazed-eyed beardy weirdy even if he looks too old for the 1993 scenes and too young for the 2013 chunk.
As in the original, TV is the sole link with the outside world, and through which Joe discovers he has been framed for his wife’s murder and his daughter has been adopted.
After twenty years he is released and given less than four days to find his kidnapper and solve the mystery or his daughter dies.
Google and smart phones are smartly woven in; Joe is baffled by apps like Shazam and wonders where all the payphones went, even if in this universe everything is supplied by Apple.
No remake is going to rebottle the original’s brilliant, deranged lightning. Lee’s version retains the same slick widescreen cool, but cannot recapture the psychological damage of incarceration or revenge that makes the 2003 movie so troubling and thrilling.
Copley’s cartoonish, cut glass accented persecutor is an odd misfire, but more successful are Olsen as a paramedic who opts to help Joe find his daughter and Jackson as a twisted henchman gunning for the Oldboy.
Ironically, Jackson’s film Fury has a plot twist indebted to the original Korean version.
And although refocusing his film as a more straightforward mystery story, Lee makes a valiant effort to ape the shocking, no-way-back nightmare plot turns of the original. Fans will also be happy to read Lee’s world is also painted primarily in red, the celebrated hammer fight replicated with highly choreographed polish that retains 18-cert body trauma and the mystery once more tied up in twisted past secrets.
Hard-as-nails fun and interesting to see a Hollywood remake that does not totally misunderstand the original, but it is that original you’ll go back to.