feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Review In A Nutshell:
I didn't feel that the original Oldboy by Chan-wook Park was perfect, but it was a memorable ride. 10 years after the Korean release, an American adaptation was spawned, handled by director Spike Lee. Honestly, I did not mind the story being told again because the themes it covers are universal, only requiring minor tweaking to fit into the current generation, and also the film would have been a wonderful opportunity to maybe correct some of the personal doubts I had with the original. Sadly, this entry barely did anything to shake up those who have seen the original, creating minor changes and supported with dull direction that actually made the original seem better.
This film starts off slightly different from the original, spending a bit more time on the protagonist, and exposing more on why he is such an unlikeable fellow. What the original did right was that it immediately showed the character at his most lowest, instead of having supporting scenes to create a negative curve on the characterisation of the protagonist. The original allowed some mystery to be left with the character at the start and the slight comedic execution allowed a cushion to be felt, to be aware of the fact that the overall story itself is a bit ridiculous and extreme. In Spike Lee's interpretation, the character exposition felt much more forced, making it much harder to forgive and be more sympathetic towards his situation.
The character then becomes abducted and placed in a hotel-like room for 20 years, going through cycles of tray-ed meals and manipulations to his body and mind, undertaken by his captors. It was here, that the film started to slightly pick up; showing the process of how the character would eventually change in becoming the hateful machine that is thirsty for revenge; but in comparison to the original, this film laid very basic groundwork, not going the extra mile in manipulating the character. Shouldn't this character go through intense psychological and emotional suffering? And if Lee was aware of this and did for a fact try to convey this, it barely gets under the audiences skin. Lee barely brings any sort of tension, both internally and externally, letting it come off as flat and unsurprising. Though in saying this, Lee did not did an awful job with this aspect of the film, he simply did not try or was inspired enough to create something riveting and challenging.
Then the film's driving complication sets its place; the protagonist desperately needing to find his captor and daughter in a short amount of time. It was here that the film would turn into an action-adventure film, like the original, but it was very rarely that I was left in a state of excitement or shock; montages of intense violence are found during this aspect of the film, but due to Lee's serious and darker tone, the impact of it all was much less, even the recreation of the remarkable hallway fight scene in the original barely left me engaged. I was also left disappointed with the reveal of the villain, with the character coming off as less treacherous and mysterious as the original. The rationale behind his decision to torture the protagonist was less effective due to its minor changes, it came off as melodramatic and unconvincing; the original film had heart in its twisted revenge, leaving a mark on its audience's minds. Then the film's conclusion was a dud, lacking any power that the original was able to bring, which was slightly ambiguous, leaving audiences with food for thought; in this Hollywood edition, it felt too safe, displaying an ending that would please the majority of its audience.
The performances in this film were not too bad, though I did want them to show more exaggerated emotion, just to stamp a personality on each of them. Here, all the characters felt too one-note, defined only by their agendas, lacking that quality that was found in the Korean original that made these characters so damn memorable.
Spike Lee's Oldboy is not the complete travesty that many claim it to be, but it is a major disappointment, especially when one lets it stand side by side with the original. My experience with Spike Lee only resides in his 2006 film, Inside Man, which at the time left me thrilled and tense, simply wondering how it would all turn out. Here I barely cared for anything that happened, which would make this forgettable experience in the long run.