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In 1993, the alcoholic Joseph "Joe" Doucett is a loathed man with basically one only friend, Chucky, who owns a bar. He neglects his three year-old daughter Mia and is estranged of his ex-wife Donna. Out of the blue, Joe is kidnapped and locked alone in a room for twenty years. Along the years, he learns that Donna was brutally murdered and he was accused of the crime and Mia was adopted and raised by a family. Unexpectedly he is released without knowing who arrested him and why. He meets the humanitarian social assistant Marie Sebastian and his old friend Chucky and together they try to find the identity of his kidnapper.
An advertising executive is kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. When he is inexplicably released, he embarks on an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his punishment, only to find he is still trapped in a web of conspiracy and torment.
Hollywood remakes of Asian films are always an iffy proposition. How will the nuances and culturally-specific references translate across oceans and continents? Generally, however good the remakes, they rarely – if ever – eclipse the original films. In recent memory, perhaps only Martin Scorsese&#39;s The Departed, based on Infernal Affairs, has managed to find a life of its own. Other remakes, like The Lake House and Shall We Dance?, have sunk into ignominy. Spike Lee&#39;s Oldboy isn&#39;t completely terrible, but it does lose quite a bit of the dark, bruising, ambivalent flavour of Park Chan-Wook&#39;s 2003 Korean classic.<br/><br/>Josh Brolin takes centre stage in Lee&#39;s version. He sinks credibly into the abrasive, drunken skin of Joe Doucett, a slimy guy whose wife and daughter Mia have left him. Nevertheless, Joe continues to merrily offend everyone around him, until he is abruptly kidnapped and trapped in a hotel room for twenty years. During his arduous time spent in solitary confinement, Joe ponders the mystery of his captor. When he finally gets free, he resolves to seek revenge and re-connect with Mia – a mission that becomes increasingly fraught with complications as horrifying secrets from his past are unearthed.<br/><br/>On its own merits, Oldboy – the title as obtuse as ever – is passably gripping. It entertains and horrifies in equal measure, packing in a great deal of bone-crunching violence and torture that runs the gamut from physical to psychological and everything in between. The relationship that develops between Joe and charity worker Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) is well-acted, if a little forced. Lee even cooks up a pretty disturbing face-off between Joe and Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson), the guy in charge of locking up people for his clients – no questions asked.<br/><br/>What works rather less well is the deliberate dilution of the twist in Oldboy&#39;s tale, presumably because American audiences can only handle so much moral and emotional ambiguity. Where Park&#39;s version sees the revenge mission warped with a horrifyingly emotional dilemma, Lee&#39;s film shies away from the conundrum. As a result, the film becomes far less subtle and considerably more melodramatic. There&#39;s a flashback sequence towards the end of the film that&#39;s ridiculous enough to make audiences laugh rather than gasp, even as blood splatters across walls and families are torn apart.<br/><br/>The cast assembled is impressive, even though they&#39;re not really given a lot to work with in the frequently stilted, over-blown script. Brolin anchors the film with admirably stony determination, but his Joe never seems to really feel the weight of his twenty years without human contact. Olsen, too, stumbles around a bit, as if never quite sure how to play her part, and Sharlto Copley comes close to overplaying his hand when he emerges from the shadows to drop a few hints about the reasons behind Joe&#39;s ordeal.<br/><br/>There&#39;s enough on display in Oldboy for the film to jog by at a fairly quick clip. Lee pays tribute along the way to a few iconic elements of the Korean film – an octopus in a tank, a prolonged battle in a corridor – and the cast tries its hardest to make it all work. But it&#39;s hard to shake the feeling that something a little deeper, richer, sadder and weirder was lost in translating the film into a vernacular more pleasing to Hollywood audiences.
Simply put, some movies should never be remade. &quot;Oldboy&quot; serves as a stark reminder with only a few exceptions: Americanized remakes of beloved and admired foreign films inevitably result in disappointment. For viewers unfamiliar with the history behind Spike Lee&#39;s &quot;Oldboy,&quot; the 2013 film is a remake of the cult-classic 2003 South Korean film of the same name, directed by Chan-wook Park. The Korean masterpiece possess a highly stylized, gritty sensibility while providing an emotional depth to its characters. Iconic director Spike Lee&#39;s &quot;Oldboy&quot; is as a handsomely shot piece of genre entertainment, but it fails in its attempt to define itself, resulting into a completely pointless, watered-down underwhelming thriller.<br/><br/>An alcoholic whose life is falling apart, Joe (Josh Brolin) is far from the ideal father who is willfully neglecting his three-year-old daughter, Mia. Drugged and kidnapped one night, Joe awakens in a small room with a television, only to learn that he&#39;s been framed for the murder of his ex-wife, and will spend the next 20 years trapped in this cell where he is held as a prisoner. During the duration of his imprisonment, he trains his mind and body for escape attempts while pouring his heart out to Mia in letters. After two decades of torment, Joe is suddenly set free, seeking out an old friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli), and meeting Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), an advocate for the homeless who helps him in his cause. Hunting for the individual who locked him away, Joe spares no one as he works his way to Adrian (Sharlto Copley), a deranged man masterminding the mystery Joe and Marie are now determined to solve.<br/><br/>Director Spike Lee, working from a screenplay by Mark Protosevich &quot;I Am Legend&quot; (2007), chooses to simply rehash the plot for his American remake, and quickly rushes through the unusual and unique storyline unable to establish an emotional connection with the audience which the original film develops so well. Lee&#39;s picture clocks in at a lean 104 minutes, 16 minutes shorter than Park&#39;s &quot;Oldboy.&quot; As a result, the storytelling is rather straightforward, and it forces Lee to rush through crucial sequences which are not given the adequate time to develop. Subtly goes by the waste side, and almost abandoned completely early into the third act in favor of expeditious explanations.<br/><br/>The remake remains largely faithful to the story of the 2003 effort, but seriously lacks in intensity and a sense of meaning. The original film achieves a sublime blending of ultra-violence with extreme art, while the remake feels bogged down in its copycat status, and its overall lighter tone hampers its enigmatic, disconcerting story of revenge. My advice is to avoid this altogether, pull up the original on Netflix, and deal with the subtitles America.
The revenge in Oldboy is neither sweet nor sour; it's just drab.

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