Fanboy Flick Pick: Oldboy Will Make You Wish Josh Brolin Had Gotten the Batman Role

By Luke Y. Thompson in Movies
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm


If they had to do a remake of Oldboy, we should be glad that this was what we got.

And yes, this is explicitly stated in its opening credits as a remake of the Korean film, rather than a re-adaptation of the manga, which would have been more obviously fair game, I think, in most of our minds. Whether you like the final product or not, there's a difference between the "take 2" nature of re-imaginings like Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Mick Garris' The Shining, and something like the Jackie Earle Haley Nightmare on Elm Street. The smart alec may argue, with some conviction, that all three are crap - but then every once in a while you get something like David Cronenberg's The Fly, or even - yes, I'll defend this one - Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein. A rich source can withstand several spin-off tellings, as years of Bible story movies can attest.

Park Chan-wook's take is tough to beat. But Spike Lee's not-so-secret weapon is Josh Brolin.

Before we go too much further, it is important to point out that while this may sound like a total cash-in - Park's film is so visual that it's hard to imagine too many viewers so deathly allergic to its subtitles that they just had to have a version in English - it is not a sell-out in terms of content. Some plot details have changed, but the twisted nature of the tale has not been watered down. If you know the Korean film, you probably catch my meaning; if you don't, be aware that "twisted" is not an understatement.

"ASPCA laws have spared you...THIS TIME!"

Every version of Oldboy seems to amp up the years of punishment, so while previous protagonists were locked in a mysterious room for ten and then fifteen years, the new guy gets 20. Oh Dae-su's phonetics have been rearranged to give us new protagonist Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), who's like an Alan Moore-style revisionist take on Don Draper. It's the '80s, and being a heavy drinking ad man simply isn't cool any more, as the once-successful closer now ruins deals by getting wasted and ineptly (yet confidently) hitting on clients' wives. After a particularly disastrous night ends in him lying in his own vomit in the middle of the street and a rainstorm, he awakens in a clean motel room, serviced with vodka and Chinese dumplings that appear under a catflap. The main window shows an artificial landscape that occasionally shifts from night to day so that he can keep track of time, and the TV works - but the metal door is locked and there is no obvious way out.


As Joe goes through the various stages of grief writ large, and days turn to years, he occasionally sees TV news programs that reveal his wife was murdered and he is the prime suspect; his daughter is safely in foster care now and hates him. Motivated to someday see her again and change that negative perception, he stops accepting the daily dose of vodka and starts exercising like a fiend, by imitating late-night fitness infomercials and televised MMA bouts.


He also gradually tries to pick away at the grouting in the shower to loosen the bricks and maybe find a way out, but just when he appears to be close to that goal, he awakens anew in the middle of a field, wearing a nice suit and equipped with a bag of cash and a phone. His captors have simply let him go, two decades later. But why? And WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS?

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