Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Garon Tsuhiya (manga), Nouaki Minegishi (manga), Mark Protosevich
Stars: Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli Manga / Action-Adventure
Comic books have often depicted scenes of hyper-violence to get their point across. For the sake of crass commercialism, most comic book adaptions tone down the explicit gore to be acceptable for a larger audience. Now and again, a filmmaker refuses to compromise the tone of the original material and you get a 300, a Sin City, or Spike Lee’s Oldboy.
This is a twisted, shocking mystery about how a man can change deep down. It’s a tale of high vengeance. And, in a weird way, it’s a story about the different kinds of love.
Joe Doucett is not a likable guy. He works in advertising and he’s a major jerk. But when his life falls apart completely due to his own incompetence, the consequences are surreally out-of-proportion. And the proper impetus sets him on the path to pull himself up by his bootstraps, put it all back together, and get back to where he started.
He’s wanted for a crime he didn’t commit, so going to the authorities for help isn’t really an option. As his desperation increases, so does his thirst for vengeance. But the more he finds out about what is going on, the less it all seems to make sense . . .
With help from both an old friend, Chucky, and new friend, Marie the do-gooder, Joe finds himself at odds with a network of people. But his past contains a lot of wrongs, so it’s difficult to figure out who is orchestrating everything that has gone wrong, and is continuing to haunt him.
The choreography and cinematography both contribute to giving this film a slick, distinct look, just surreal enough to give it a sense of being a tick off center. Attention to the little details throughout the film eventually will have you second guessing yourself as you try to figure out what is happening to Joe and why. Your interest will not wane for the entire 104 minutes.
Oldboy lives and dies on Josh Brolin’s performance as Joe, and he totally sells it. The confusion, the despair, the transformation, the ultra-violence–you believe all of it. The fight scenes are crazy good in a disturbing way.
Elizabeth Olsen is both innocent and worldly as Marie, a reformed drug-user and one of the people who helps along the way, while Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley are intense as not very nice guys, part of the legions working against Joe.
Oldboy is based on a manga, previously adapted in 2003 by Chan-wook Park as an acclaimed Korean film. As someone who hadn’t seen Park’s original film (and now wants to), I found Oldboy emotionally engaging, incredibly creepy, and disturbingly fascinating. I recommend it to anyone who can stomach extreme comic book violence, as long as you don’t mind being haunted by a film long after it’s over.
Elektra Hammond emulates her multi-sided idol Buckaroo Banzai by going in several directions at once.
Elektra lives in Delaware with her husband, Mike, and the cat herd of BlueBlaze/Benegesserit catteries. When not freelancing or appearing at science fiction conventions she travels world-wide judging cat shows.