Park Chan-Wook's original caused quite a stir upon its release a decade ago, thanks mainly to three memorably disturbing moments: a savagely brutal one-take fight, a queasy final plot twist and the eating of a live octopus. It probably says a lot about western sensibilities that it's the latter of the three that has been excised from Lee's remake. The other two moments remain but are handled, like every element of the film, in clumsy fashion.
The extended one-take fight suffers here from bland and unconvincing choreography. The stock villains employ that groan inducing tactic of attacking Brolin one by one rather than overpowering him with a mass attack and the CG effects snap you out of the moment. Seriously, are there no stuntmen anymore in America?
The film features that rarity, a sex scene that manages to be integral to the plot. Unlike the lengthy and graphic couplings of Blue is the Warmest Colour, which added little to the story, the sex scene here is the most pivotal moment in Oldboy's plot but it's glossed over like an afterthought. I can't think of a sex scene so important in terms of a film's narrative since 1984's Terminator and this should be the most passionate and graphic sex scene in Hollywood's prudish history. Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich, who seems particularly clueless when it comes to showing rather than telling, fail in the crucial task of selling the relationship between Brolin and Olsen, a young voluntary nurse who accompanies him on his quest for revenge and retribution. The sex scene seems to comes out of nowhere and simply isn't believable.
Someone needs to explain the aging process to Lee. At the movie's beginning, Brolin appears to be roughly 40 but upon his release 20 years later he doesn't seem to have aged a day. The same goes for the rest of the characters. This is indicative of the general lack of attention and care put into this cash-in production. Lee has said his film isn't a remake of Park Chan-Wook's, rather a reinterpretation of the source Manga comic. Odd then how much of the Korean auteur's style he attempts, and fails, to replicate.
(Review by Eric Hillis)