The Ninjabot


Posted on November 26, 2013 at 10:31 am by Darth Shiva

Brolin Sword

Spike Lee’s latest action drama, Oldboy, is a reinterpretation of a 2003 South Korean mystery thriller of the same name directed by Park Chan-wook.   This was Spike Lee’s first remake of an existing film, and stars Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad, True Grit), Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House, Kill Your Darlings), and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained).   With Park’s blessing, Brolin and Lee set out to make a film everyone would recognize as a well done remake with an original feel.  I have yet to see the original but I definitely will after seeing this movie to see the differences and determine which version I like better.

For those who are unfamiliar with the movie, Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a man kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years after he is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit.  After the 20 years are up, he is released with only some money, a phone, and a burning obsession with vengeance. He is consumed with finding out who put him there and why.  Samuel L. Jackson is Chaney, the warden of the secret prison and Elizabeth Olsen plays Marie, a girl he meets after he is released who sees his pain and helps him find what he is looking for.  The main theme of the film is interesting.  When you are not a good person and have wronged so many people in your life, what lengths would they go to in order to exact their revenge?  In my opinion this is a solid movie with a lot of really interesting moments, but there were a few things that hold me back from saying it was excellent, so I give it a B+.

Spoilers Ahead

Oldboy remote

Josh Brolin is what captivates your interest in this movie.  He is real, gritty, despicable, forgivable, and lovable all at once.  Most of the film centers on watching him under the microscope of his own life.  This movie can easily be broken down into the 3 parts of Joe’s character; the man he is in his normal life, the man he is forced to become because of his imprisonment, and the man he ends up as after his release.

The Man He is…

We are introduced to him in 1993, a divorced ad man with a 3 year old daughter, a severe drinking problem, and issues with anger management.  He is an embarrassment of a human being at this point.  If Mad Men glorifies the advertising executive’s drinking, womanizing, and divorce, then Oldboy is showing us the seedy underbelly.  After losing a rich client (and his job) at dinner, an already drunk Joe goes to a bar owned by his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli), only to encounter a mysterious woman, and when he wakes, he is in a hotel room… of sorts.  This is the end of Joe’s life as it was.


One of the strongest parts of this movie for me was the passage of time.  Joe’s introduction to the hotel and his circumstances are harsh, gut-wrenching and creepy.  He has no one to talk to and no idea of when he’ll get out.  Once he sees the news of his ex-wife’s violent rape and murder and the subsequent evidence found that identifies him as the killer, his life become even more bleak.  The audience experiences the passage of time with Joe and each way is even more hopeless than the last.  How does someone experience life in this way and not go insane?  The first evidence of hope for Joe is after 5 years, when he sees a show on TV revisiting unsolved crimes and follows the life of Mia since her mother’s murder, and her father’s disappearance.  After seeing his daughter, Joe vows to become a new man.  He starts writing letters to Mia telling her of his innocence and his imprisonment and promises to find her and explain everything.  He stops drinking and begins to train, using morning fitness videos and kung-fu movies.  He also begins to create a list of every person he has wronged, in order to find the one responsible when he gets out, and plans a way to escape.

The Man he Becomes…

15 more years go by and Joe wakes to find himself in a steamer trunk in the middle of a field, clean shaven and outfitted in a black suit with a pillowcase full of letters and a lot of cash in his pocket.  A mysterious caller has given Joe a deadline to find out the answer to two questions or he’ll never see his daughter Mia again.  He is left with a ticking clock and the desperation of a man unsure of how to proceed.  He is able to find his way back to the prison and get information from the warden and from there he is left to answer the kidnapper’s two questions, “Why did I imprison you for 20 years? and Why did I let you go?”  Those ominous questions are what drives Joe to find the truth through the remainder of the film.  I will not give any more away, in case those who haven’t seen it and want to have a few surprises.

Olson Yellow Umbrella

There were actually a few funny moments, and most of the humor is through Brolin’s portrayal of finding what he needs without it being serious for the audience all the times.  He is amazing in this, and gained and lost 50 lbs just for this role.  The transformation of his character is hard, sad, sweet, and he is breathtaking in his ability.  There were some campy fight scenes that belonged more in Kill Bill, and less in what this movie portrayed, which is why it didn’t grade higher for me.  It’s possible that this style of fighting is truer to the original film and more of an homage than the way Spike Lee would have portrayed it had this not been a remake, but I won’t know until I see the original.  I also felt the payoff regarding the villain was a bit weak, but it begs the question as to how far will someone go, especially if they’ve snapped?  The ending was very interesting, and I felt satisfied by the character payoffs.  I sincerely hope Josh Brolin gets an Oscar nomination for this, his performance is fantastic.

Has anyone else seen it yet? How do you feel it held up to the original?

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