A remake of a great film with a fine auteur and quality cast attached? What could possibly go wrong? Everything, as it happens. Hollywood's plunder of South Korean new-wave titles continues with the same jaundiced anti-alchemy that transformed the sublime A Tale of Two Sisters into the ridiculous Uninvited.
Too often, Spike Lee’s “reimagining’ of Garon Tsuchiya’s manga (the source for Park Chan-wook’s ground-breaking 2003 film) isn’t all that reimaginative. Shots and set-ups are pilfered wholesale as Josh Brolin’s antihero finds himself locked away for 20 years without explanation, then set free without warning.
The facsimile is pointless but dependable until Lee and his screenwriter add increasingly ludicrous embellishments: the villain’s killer-geisha sidekick is one of the year’s most unintentionally hilarious footnotes. Sharlto Copley’s fruity accident is operatic on all the wrong notes. Samuel L Jackson can barely stretch to faxing it in as an illicit jailer whose dialogue was presumably written in CAPS and exclamation marks.
Elsewhere, the tone descends into cartoonish nonsense. The realistic cracks and hammer blows that once punctuated the original's epic fight sequences make way for an Acme library of post-production sounds. The horror of Park's Oldboy depended on its protagonist being a regular everyjerk. From the get-go, Josh Brolin is some kind of superjerk. Nobody needs to lock him away to create a monster: he got there, we feel, long ago.
This Oldboy's attempt to graft a major plot twist onto a major plot twist is equally problematic. If one is unfamiliar with the original, this makes for an unspeakable mess: for a Park fan, it's the Hallelujah Chorus belligerently hollered out by the tone deaf.
No wonder Oldboy opened to less than $850,000 Stateside, amounting to one of the weakest Thanksgiving openings of all time.