Oldboy (2013)
Oldboy (2013)

Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: November 27th, 2013 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Spike Lee Actors: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Pom Klementieff, James Ransone, Max Casella, Linda Emond, Rami Malek, Hannah Ware, Hannah Simone




eavy-drinking Advanced Advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) fails to land a valuable client, then drunkenly wanders the city streets in frustrated defeat. When he’s turned away at longtime friend Chuck’s (Michael Imperioli) doorstep, he awakes in a hotel room hours later. He quickly realizes that he’s in some sort of strange prison, where Chinese food and vodka is routinely delivered via a small opening at the base of the door, and his only companion is an old television set – and frequent hallucinations. While watching the news, he sees a story about the brutal rape and murder of his ex-wife Donna (Hannah Ware), for which he is the primary suspect (thanks to irrefutable, planted evidence).

His daughter is adopted and renamed Mia Roos, whom he sees briefly on TV during an episode of “Mysteries of Crime,” discussing the unsolved death of Donna. At first dejected and suicidal, as the years pass, Joe writes letters to Mia, works out and teaches himself martial arts (via the TV), and devises a plan of escape through the bathroom wall. But just as he’s about to flee after approximately 20 years in captivity, the room is gassed and he passes out. When he regains consciousness, he realizes he’s been stuffed in a Louis Vuitton trunk and left out in a grassy field. Meeting up with Chuck, who can barely recognize him, Joe researches everyone he can think of to discover the person or persons involved in his lengthy imprisonment.

From the very first scenes, it’s evident that drastic changes will be made from the original Chan-wook Park-directed Korean motion picture that served as a basis. Joe’s character is immediately more dislikable, has a visibly unpleasant relationship with his ex-wife, and an uncaring attitude toward his three-year-old child. Fittingly, he’s more incensed and unfriendly when finally released. But, unexpectedly, the violence is perhaps even more over-the-top than in the previous filmic adaptation (the tooth torture has been replaced by a somewhat nastier salt-in-the-wound skin removal via box cutter sequence). The use of advanced technology, such as iPhones, has a small impact on the sleuthing necessary to locate the culprit, but since little else has changed, especially concerning motives and relationships, the story and visuals fail to bring freshness to the production.

The film seems largely an excuse to redo sensational sequences from the original “Oldboy,” such as the breathtaking use of a hammer as the weapon of choice, a brief nod to “The Count of Monte Cristo” with the mention of Edmond Dantes, and the Evergreen name for the institution that bridges the victims. Peculiarly, specific details that are duplicated here seem like missed opportunities for intriguing updates rather than the mere reshoots they become. Nonetheless, enough of the story remains the same, making this a particularly unnecessary project for fans of the original. Sadly, the mystery isn’t nearly as involving, the romance unconvincingly spontaneous, and Joe’s fighting skills a bit too honed for the sake of believability. Additionally, the villain isn’t the engrossingly riddle-spewing madman from before, but a wild-eyed weirdo, overly enthusiastic about his nonsensically elaborate game. Though the quest for closure still outweighs the desire for swift physical vengeance, “Oldboy” seemingly only works as a bizarrely mystifying Asian thriller – and not as a mainstream American actioner.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10