Oldboy – 2013 (Blu-ray Review)

OldboyChan-wook Park’s Oldboy from 2003 is one of my favorite films of all time.  It came highly recommended to me by my good friend John Rocha.  He refused to tell me as much as possible about the plot and didn’t want to discuss anything aside from it being “terrific” until I saw it.  And when I first saw it, my mind was freakin’ BLOWN (overused term, I know, but how else do you describe it?).  It was an incredibly engaged movie that hooks you from the first frame and has you on the edge of your seat trying to piece together and figure it out before the film does.  It also had some really cool action, including a memorable one take confined space fight with a hammer.  And then, the biggie, the jaw dropping “HOLY SHIT” ending.  I immediately knew I would never forget this film.  No matter how hard you try, you’ll never forget 2003’s Oldboy.  I began immediately forcing the film upon my film buff friends and spreading the good word.  Everybody seemed in agreement; Oldboy was a great film and one of the best of the decade. 

Now, as with all foreign non-English language films that produce a buzz or a sizeable cult audience, someone decides it needs a US remake for those lazy folks that don’t like to read subtitles and can’t handle some storytelling elements, so it also gets watered down.  Oldboy 2013 surprisingly keeps the toughest elements to stomach, but ultimately is a lazy uninspired remake that makes a dubbed in English audio track on the original a more effective viewing experience.  Released this past November it was met with low box office and mixed reviews.  It came and went almost unnoticed and is Spike Lee’s weakest box office take in his career.  But, hey, here it comes to the Blu-ray format where I’m sure even the biggest detractors of this getting made will check it out.

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Ad man Joe Doucett is a drunk and slimey bastard.  On this particular day, he skips on his 3 year old daughter’s birthday and also screws up an important client meeting.  He heads to his friend’s bar for drinks and winds up approaching a woman with a yellow umbrella.  Next thing he knows, he’s trapped inside a motel room.  He cannot escape and is fed a helping of the same meals and a pint of vodka daily.  While he’s inside, he is framed for his wife’s murder.  This turns him around and while inside he reforms himself, hoping to escape and right his framing and reunite with his daughter to become the father he never was for her.  One morning he wakes up inside a trunk in a park with money and a phone and the discovery that its 20 years later.  It’s time to put the pieces together and figure out who did this to him and why.

As I mentioned above, the original is one of my favorite movies of all time.  And when they kept threatening us with a remake (Spielberg and Will Smith once involved), I got pretty defensive.  I usually get angered with foreign language remakes as they tend to become dumb versions of the films for lazy people.  But, when it was announced Spike Lee would be directing it, I slowly lowered my fists.  He’s always been a unique director that has his own voice and ability to craft a unique film.  I could easily accept a remake coming from a filmmaker that is going to make his own unique interpretation of it.  And when Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen were cast, I kind of liked what I was seeing from this.

Unfortunately, that good will was killed off within 5 minutes of watching this film.  What this ends up being is that lazy, less imaginative version of the original with the prime difference being that it’s in English with American actors.  The film has nothing to say or differentiate itself from the original and taken on its own, it’s almost an embarrassing attempt at crafting a good mystery.  The one thing it does add is only there to attempt to throw off the fans of the original film, except, nobody in their right mind is going to buy into it.  There’s also an additional character in the film that really does nothing but attempt to sex and “badass” the film up, but she serves zero importance and it would be a far more effective for the villain had the character not been included.

On its own, this film has some incredibly atrocious dialogue.  It’s the kind of stuff that is assuming the film is being screened for the dumbest audience possible.  If someone who hasn’t seen the original is actually shocked by the twist at the end, I’d be shocked.  And then I would facepalm myself til my head turned purple.  Seriously within 7 minutes the dialogue baits and baits and baits us with a single bit of information that it ultimately should have had an insert in the Blu-ray case that mentioned it as well “before playing the movie”.  Also a lot of the other key points in the film are so on the nose, overexposed and hammered in that it’s incredibly awkward to see a lot of scenes.  This stuff alone makes this all a really tough sell.  Sometimes its almost as if they did a straight translation of the original South Korean script and didn’t try to make the dialogue native to American speech.

Also in the unoriginal department, this film is so afraid to stray itself from the source material that it for some reason includes a lot of the Korean culture from the original film.  It feels really random, weird and out of place.  There’s really no explanation for all this stuff, its just…well…there.  There’s also really awkward behaviors to that just take you out of the film and make you wonder “what the hell, who does that?”.  I take for example the scene on the football field where Joe beats to death a couple kids taking a break from playing some football.  Joe stops the woman in the umbrella and asks and this dude comes up and immediately wants a death match with them.  It then turns into a mess of broken bottles and breaking necks.  It’s a cool fight, but it makes zero sense and I couldn’t enjoy it because I didn’t understand why in the hell it was happening.

I will give some comeuppance to Josh Brolin.  This guy went all in for this, he gives a terrific performance, but the movie blows big time.  Elizabeth Olsen continues to prove she’s one of the best working actresses in her age group, even if she’s wasting it here.  It seemed like everyone really thought they were making something special here, but it rarely shows in this film.  It doesn’t help either that the film’s villain is ultimately a pretty terrible performance.  He’s played by Sharlto Copley and I just could never get on board with him.  His performance really didn’t fit with the rest of this movie and he really had no chemistry with the rest of the cast.  While one might say its befitting of said character, it’s really not working on the film in front of your eyes.  It’s an important role in the film that ends up never working and ultimately disappointing.

 I hadn’t seen this remake until now for the review.  Aaron Neuwirth listed it on his “Worst of 2013” list and I whole-heartedly salute him and throw him a big thumbs up in agreement.   As a remake of the original it’s bad and on its own merits its bad.  It’s a shame because I became rather opening and welcoming of this film where I was once apprehensive about it, only to have my earlier fears and preconceived notions fully recognized when I saw it.  In the end, I feel truly and deeply sorry for anyone whose first experience with Oldboy is this movie.  The original is a great great film with one of the greatest plot twist/revelations in cinema history.  In comparison, this film just lifts its legs and farts.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1

Clarity/Detail: I didn’t really care for this picture.  Its reproduction on this Blu-ray comes off as rather dingy.  It’s pretty soft and isn’t too sharp around the edges.  During some close-ups there is a great amount of detail.  Also in flashback scenes that over overlit the film actually decides it wants to pop and look good.  But, for most of it, it looks like a poor transfer instead of a stylized film choice.

Depth:  There are times in the film where depth would have done a whole lot for this picture.  Instead its rather flat and that may be more to do with the source material than it is with the production of this Blu-ray.

Black Levels:  The black in this is a black hole.  There is no detail escaping anywhere there is black in this film.  Once the darkness consumes you, you are done for.

Color Reproduction: The colors are solid here, but nothing really bold as black seems to be the dominant choice.  There’s not a whole lot of saturation as everything seems to blend together and nothing really pops.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones were consistent.  Josh Brolin’s pale skin appeared rather natural and lifelife.  I was able to make out subtle scratches on his chest too when his shirt came off.  Most of the skin tones in the film are cold, dry and consistent.

Noise/Artifacts: There is a lot of poorly lit, and overly grainy scenes.  I thought this was shot digitally, but maybe not.  Its not good grain either, it disrupts some of the clarity of the picture at times.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Dynamics: The levels of volume were played around with and had a lot of fun in the front channels of my system.  Sound effects were fully dimensional and detailed in their presentation.  If anything it works to enhance a rather dull movie.

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer paid its dues, it was a solid addition to the feature, but nothing spectacular.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This is a pretty front loaded feature with the rears left to just carry the score and some ambient noise.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and clear.  Voices carry plenty of bass and are clean and crisp.

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Oldboy comes to you with an Ultraviolet copy and a few extras.

Extended & Alternate Scenes – Here is an alternate take on a scene and few that are lengthier, including tacking more onto the one-take fight scene that actually makes it a little bit more respectable.  Why they trimmed it…I have no idea.

The Tape – Alternate (HD, 1:30)

Ramp Fight – Extended (HD, 4:35)

Adrian Watches From The Penthouse – Extended (HD, 5:19)

Haeng-bok In Bed – Extended (HD, :42)

The Making Of Oldboy (HD, 16:52) – Cast and Crew interviews mixed with the onset footage and ideas behind shooting a few key scenes.  Funny enough, there’s no mention of the original at all during this.

Talking Heads (HD, 2:40) – A little EPK piece about liking the original and a bunch of interview stuff you already heard in the “Making Of” featurette.

Transformation (HD, 2:11) – Another EPK piece talking about Josh Brolin’s eagerness to do make-up and the approach for his look in the film.

Workout Video (HD: 49) – The scene from the movie where Josh Brolin wanks it to an old school work out video.  Why is this here?

Previews – Trailers for American Hustle, Pompeii, Inside Llewyn Davis, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher, Cold Comes The Night

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It was tempting to give this a zero, as I really don’t think this film should be seen.  However, it has a solid (yet rather disappointing) video and audio presentation and some shallow but ever-present extras.  It also includes an Ultraviolet version.  It really stinks that this is going to be the way some people see this film for the first time.  Not only is it a bad remake, it’s also likely the worst film of Spike Lee’s career.  So, instead of dropping the zero, I’m giving this an honest score, but highly suggesting you see the original.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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