OLDBOY: The Hughes Verdict on THAT remake

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The Trailer

What is it all about?

Its the dreaded remake of the all time classic Korean thriller OLDBOY.  If you have never seen Park Chan Wook’s masterpiece, stop reading…..get on Netflix and get watching, because you have missed out on one of the greatest movies of all time………….

The Hughes Verdict!

With OLDBOY 2013 out a while and many of us at HCF refusing to even acknowledge it exists, never mind sitting down to watch the film, it took this weekend for Hughesy to draw the short straw and finally sit back and watch what Spike Lee has done to his “American Version” of what is no doubt one of the greatest movies of all time!

The Park Chan Masterpiece from 2003 is one of the films that helped create HCF.  When the six of us created HorrorCultFilms it was on the back of our love and endless talk about that film (and many others) that cemented our relationship with each other.  It frustrated us that so many would not watch it because of the subtitles and when we discovered many more films out there that deserved to be discovered, the first building blocks of this very website was beginning to be put down.   The original Oldboy is a tour de force of film making.  A rocket to the system and the brain that will leave you shaken and stirred.   It was only doing a conversation with a close friend that I decided to take up the mantle of watching this remake..  My friend told me that he had just seen OLDBOY and was blown away with it which got me giddy and excited.  I started to go on about certain scenes and of course that “Octopus” infamous moment, but all I had back was a confused look and a remark of “That bit weren’t in it”………   It dawned on me that he was on about the remake and not the original and my heart sunk…

Its very hard and really unfair to even judge something before watching it.  But there are certain things in the film world that are and should be untouchable.  I can understand the need to remake original films that lacked something originally and has potential.  I mean HEAT is a remake of LA Takedown and no one has uttered a bad word to say to Michael Mann for remaking his old film.  David Cronenberg is the same thanks to his new treatment of The Fly, an improvement and also now a classic in its own right.  But some films are just too perfect to be remade.  Halloween suffered from this, so did the likes of Carrie and of course the horrid treatment of Norman Bates in Psycho.  One day some poor director will be put in charge of a new version of JAWS which even just typing that makes me think how stupid that entire notion is.

Of course there are exceptions, Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead was a brilliant homage but films like that only come around once in a blue moon and to hope OLDBOY 2013 will follow in that vein is wishful thinking.  But then I understand why this film was remade.  Lets not forget that Park Chan never came up with the idea himself, with the concept coming from an OLDBOY Japanese comic book.  If Chan can remake it, why cant Spike Lee, especially as the story is well worth telling and giving it to an audience who refuse to watch a subtitle film.

So I was willing to give this new take the benefit of the doubt and besides my friend was blown away by it, so it couldn’t be that bad……….could it?

Well……………………its not that bad!  SHOCK HORROR!!!!

Honestly now, but watching OLDBOY 2013 will only depend on your love for the 2003 original.   If that film is up there in the list of “the best films” you have ever seen, then you won’t be bored with this but you just feel its all a bit pointless.  Its like watching total strangers doing things that other people done but better……

Plotwise its all the same, but it loses that edge in the American translation.  The always brilliant Josh Brolin who by the way should have been BATMAN instead of Affleck (my opinion) does a really good job carrying this picture from start to finish.  At the belonging his Joe is a disaster on legs.  A horrid drunken, spiteful, bitter man who talks to women like dirt and everyone around him hates.  We spend a bit of time with him in this drunken state and its not pleasant…….urinating outside, being sick over himself on the street, Joe is a bad man but sadly there is someone out there who is even worse.  The year of course is 1993 and soon Joe wakes up in a room where he can’t get out.  Its there where he spend the next 20 years (five more than the original) only being fed through a pushed tray from the hatch of the steel door.

At first Joe is confused and just gives up, even to the point of an attempted suicide.  Its only after many years have passed that he decides to fight back, starts to exercise, learn kung fu from the TV shows that air on the background and starts to become really strong by punching the wall over and over. Its the same TV that plays episodes of his daughter and wife.  In an Unsolved Mystery show….Joe gets information that his wife was found dead and the evidence points to him doing it but mystery surrounds the fact that he has disappeared from the face of the world.  His daughter is taken into care and then we see in a future update that his daughter is living with a great foster family and is now a brilliant young musician

Its when we reach two decades that Joe is now a mean lean clean fighting machine and he needs to escape. Find his daughter, clear his name and get the person responsible for this.  But any plan for a kind of Prison Break escapee is thrown when he wakes once more to find himself in a large suitcase in a field.  Free from his dungeon and confused, he barely gets his bearings when the mobile phone which has a photo of his grown up daughter as a screensaver, starts ringing…and then the game really begins……………

You could say that OLDBOY both versions is the ultimate revenge film.  Joe is determined to get the men responsible but at what cost.  When he befriends a nurse called Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), he drags her into his mess and despite the touching love story developing between the two, there is always something ugly just around the corner.

Some key moments from the original film are here, apart of course from the Octopus moment.  That “Hammer” scene is present but loses the blunt and comes across more of a The Raid rip off……but its still handed OK by Lee and Brolin handles the fight scenes very well.  But then we can not talk about OLDBOY 2013 without mentioning “why” and like its original, no matter what you may think of this version, the final reveal is still haunting, shocking and downright powerful.  Its a twisted mind blown and while it was very hard for me personally to watch this throughout without thinking “I know where this is heading”, many who were never taken to that dark place in 2003 will be blown away by “that revelation” because to be fair to Lee he does keep his Ace close to his chest.

So for a guy who hates remakes, I found myself wondering just why this flopped so badly in the cinema.  Its not half the disaster I expected.  I can totally understand the need to bring this to a new audience but perhaps the dark material was to off putting for many.  OLDBOY past and present is not a film that will leave you feeling happy inside.  Its emotionally draining and something which if you are new to this genre will leave you stunned sitting there.  I could not really care  for this new film as it came across as totally pointless, but then my reason for that is because of my undying love for Park Chan’s.

The bitter blow though is we now have two OLDBOY films both missed by the masses.  My friend himself was totally blown away by what he saw in this Lee film and having then informed him of the much superior original, he is now going to seek it out…… “Just for that Octopus scene”. which tells me that I am just glad then that this film DOES exist.


Simply because for those who have no time for subtitle films, may one day stumble upon this version showing on TV and end up watching and loving the entire show. That alone is reason enough because the material itself and that “heartbreaking finale” is worth the watch alone…………..


Rating: ★★★☆☆





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About Ross Hughes 552 Articles
Since my mother sat me down at the age of five years of age and watched a little called Halloween, I have been hooked on horror. There is no other genre that gets me excited and takes me to the edge of entertainment. I watch everything from old, new, to cheap and blockbusters, but I promise all my readers that I will always give an honest opinion, and I hope whoever reads this review section, will find a film that they too can love as much as I do! Have fun reading, and please DO HAVE NIGHTMARES!!!!!!

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