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Oldboy (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/4/2013

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/11/2014

Over the years, I've seen many films which cross many genres and run the gamut from mainstream blockbusters to the "I'm convinced I'm the only person who has ever seen it"-type. But, how weird is this?: I've never seen a Spike Lee movie. I don't know if it was timing or the plot of his movies or my dislike for Denzel Washington, but none of his 20 or so feature films had ever crossed my path. Sure, I was very familiar with his work -- who isn't? -- but I simply had not seen a movie that he had directed until I received a copy of Oldboy to review. Having seen the Korean original, I was not only interested in seeing how the remake was handled, but what I would think of Lee's work.

Josh Brolin stars in Oldboy as Joe Doucett, an advertising executive who is not a very good guy. He drinks on the job, hits on women, and ignores his estranged family. One night, after losing a big account due to making some lewd remarks to the client's girlfriend, a drunken Joe wanders the streets. He awakens to find himself in what appears to be a hotel room with no memory of how he got there. But, he soon learns that the room is more like a cell and that he can't get out. With no idea of why he is there or who put his there, Joe goes through rage and depression, and then comes to terms with his captivity, exercising daily and mimicking the action films on the room's TV to learn how to fight. After twenty years of living by himself in the room, Joe is suddenly released. A mysterious voice on the phone informs him that he has only a few days to figure out who imprisoned him and why. With the help of a kindly nurse (Elizabeth Olsen), Joe sets out to solve the mystery.

Despite the fact that I had not seen a Spike Lee movie up until now, I had seen the 2003 original South Korean film from Director Chan Wook-Park. That film had received a great deal of hype and I remember being sorely disappointed by it. And that's about all that I remember save for the basic premise and the fact that a claw hammer had a nice supporting role.

Given the fact that I wasn't crazy about the original film and that I had no idea what to expect from Lee, I went into Oldboy with some trepidation. The movie doesn't do much to embrace the audience, as Joe is portrayed as a world-class jerk in the beginning, and we don't really feel for him when he is imprisoned. While this part of the film is emotionally cold, the truly odd nature of the plot (even for those who know it), make it somewhat fascinating. The movie spends a good deal of time with Joe's time in captivity, and it's during this phase that we begin to get on-board with the character, as he opts to give up drinking (yes, he's supplied booze on a daily basis) and get in shape. He realizes that he's now desperate to see the daughter he once shunned and writes dozens of letters to her.

Once Joe is released, the film's tone changes dramatically. What had been a quasi-science-fiction piece somewhat akin to the 1960's TV show The Prisoner, now becomes an action-thriller-cum-mystery. I was impressed with how Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich drew the audience in here, as we are on Joe's journey with him. We see the same clues that he does, and even when we get a glimpse of the person who had Joe imprisoned, we have no idea who it is and we learn things at the same pace that as Joe. The mystery builds very slowly, as we get bits and pieces of the puzzle as the film moves towards its climax. These moments are counter-balanced by the action sequences, which Lee handles quite well, choosing to do long takes during the fight scenes. During Joe's time in captivity, he trained himself to be a martial-arts fighter and while the scenes in which he takes on multiple attackers are a bit far-fetched, they do look good. I also liked how Lee shot the flashbacks, placing the present-day characters in the middle of them. (Yes, we've seen this before, but it works well here.)

This new version of Oldboy contains the same third act plot twist as the original film -- something which I did remember -- so, for me, it didn't pack quite the same punch as it would for someone who was approaching Lee's version with no prior knowledge. I did like how this new version didn't drag out the finale, although I'm not sure if I liked the ending, as it sort of reminded me of the series finale of Dexter.

It could easily be argued that Oldboy did not need to be remade, and the fact that Lee's version sticks so closely to the original would only support that argument. Still, I prefer this new version as it raises some new moral questions and really hits home with the fact that by imprisoning Joe, they turned a normal man into a highly-skilled killer. I also welcomed the fact that the finale didn't seem as cluttered. The action scenes are well done and the mystery aspect works well. Brolin is asked to carry the film, as he's in nearly every scene, and he does a fine job. Elizabeth Olsen continues to prove that she's a talent to watch. Some may be turned off by the violence in Oldboy and some may resent the fact that it's yet another remake of an Asian film, but I found it to be pleasantly surprising and it's made me wonder what I may have missed in other Spike Lee movies.

Oldboy goes for a crewcut as opposed to a bushy 'do on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. Despite the fact that the movie contains many dark themes, Lee hasn't toned down the colors and we get nice reds and the brilliant yellow umbrella which appears in the movie. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as evidenced by the lines in Brolin's face and the depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Simply go to the big fight scene to hear how well this track handles the surround mix, as we get audio which moves from side-to-side and front-to-back very smoothly and the rear speakers don't simply mimic the front. The action sequences also provide palpable subwoofer action.

The Oldboy Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The Disc offers four EXTENDED AND ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 12 minutes. There's really nothing new here. "The Making of Oldboy" (17 minutes) gets pretty in-depth for a somewhat brief featurette, as it literally starts at the beginning, with Lee and Brolin going over the script. The piece then moves through the production of the film, examining costuming, production design, stunts, and location shooting. We get comments from Lee, Brolin, and several key crew members. "Talking Heads" (3 minutes) and "Transformation" both play like trailers, but with comments from those involved with the film. "Workout Video" (49 seconds) is a montage of Joe getting into shape.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long