The announcement of the remake of the much-loved Korean film Oldboy by Spike Lee was met with both derision (“Oh, really, they are remaking Oldboy???”) and anticipation (“Hang on, wait – you mean Spike Lee is making Oldboy?? Huh…that could be quite cool, actually…”). Trailers have teased enough to suggest that Lee was staying true to the original whilst placing his own stamp on it, and the big question on everyone’s minds was how would he deal with that twist. With the reviews trickling in it looks like it is fair to say that the reception of Lee’s version of Chan-Wook Park’s 2003 daring and brilliant original has been lukewarm at best, and in many cases downright hostile.
“…is relentlessly gruesome, self-consciously shocking and pretty much pointless….With Lee at the helm, “Oldboy’’ exasperatingly toggles between fantasy and a kind of stylized naturalism. It’s a fatal approach for a baroque melodrama that cries out for a director favoring operatic excess and bad taste — someone like Brian De Palma.”
“Lee’s Oldboy is drab and humorless, devoid of the stylistic curlicues that can get you through even a bad Spike Lee film. Like its hero, a clueless lug who’s imprisoned for 20 years by an invisible captor for a transgression he doesn’t remember committing, it stumbles onto the movie landscape, blinking in the glare and wondering, Where am I? Where did I come from? It’s not just a movie about brainwashing; it’s a brainwashed movie.”
“If you have seen the earlier version, you can occupy yourself with point-by-point comparisons. If not, you may find yourself swerving between bafflement and mild astonishment, wondering how a movie that works so hard to generate intensity and surprise can feel so routine and bereft of genuine imagination.”
“The remake by Lee is half-decent at best as it follows the trajectory of the original story, though not entirely,” and ultimately concludes”Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s twisted masterpiece starts off lethargically, but grows in confidence with its material, though it is still many miles away from the standard of the South Korean original.”
Not all the reviews have been so negative so, however – In a 4 star review, Bill Gibron of Film Racket said:
“When you consider the insult that could have resulted from this remake’s original configuration (Steven Spielberg behind the lens, Will Smith in front of it), Lee’s take on Oldboy is to be celebrated. It’s not as mythic as the original, but it has a Hitchcockian bite all its own.”
“…violent, masterful Chan-wook Park remake”
With a current Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 45% but a 93% audience want to see rating, the question remains if Lee’s Oldboy will prove a hit with the audience and at the box office, despite the middling to negative reviews so far. On The Interent Movie Database, Lee’s Oldboy is currently scoring a low 4.3 vs the original’s 8.4 rating - though this can be put down to disgruntled fans of the original likely voting the remake down before actually having seen it.
Are you planning to see the Oldboy remake?
Dave is the Editor of TLFR and a freelance writer. As well as a guest on BBC radio and regular appearances on the television show Reel Review, he has written for The Guardian, We Got This Covered, the International Political Forum and more.