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20th and 10th Anniversary TLDR: Oldboy (2003) and Oldboy (2013)
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.
Plot: With no clue how he came to be imprisoned, drugged and tortured for 15 years, a desperate businessman seeks revenge on his captors.
Direction: Park Chan-wook has explored the idea of revenge on a few occasions - Oldboy is the second entry in the unofficial but thematically-linked "Vengeance Trilogy," bookended by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. Thematically, you can see why he's so interested in the subject - he clearly has a lot to say as this film is stuffed with madness and intensity. I haven't seen the other two films, but if he needed two more projects to say all that he wanted to say...yikes. Technically it's top-notch as well, with many pointing out the one-take hallway fight scene as a highlight.
Screenplay: Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Jun-hyung, and Park Chan-wook loosely adapt the Japanese manga of the same name. Obviously, the film pulls you in from the first few moments, but for me (and most of the internet, it seems), it's all about the last 20 minutes - which are unspeakably dark.
Performances: A great supporting cast (Yoo Ji-tae and Kang Hye-jung are highlights) back up the star of the show: Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su. Think about how many great film performances are the living embodiment of the five stages of grief: remember Keanu Reeves' John Wick or Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and how you can see every stage of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance? Choi Min-sik does that all and more - about four or five times over. It's brilliant.
Cinematography: This film is aesthetic-heavy: relying on color, lighting, and rain to be the manifestation of the movie's themes. Chung Chung-hoon's photography is excellent - he's a longtime collaborator with Park for a reason and his work can be seen worldwide in films like It and Last Night in Soho.
Best moment: The finale, barf bag not included.
Fun fact: It's incredibly difficult to google "hammers in movies" because the only thing that comes up is Hammer Horror.
Imaginary accolade: Least Appetizing Sushi in Cinema
Everything is too long. Is it too long? As much as I love 90 minutes, Oldboy uses every ounce of its 120 minutes.
Rating: I can see why it's heralded as a masterpiece.
Direction: I want to be clear - I love Spike Lee. He's a personal favorite and I think he's one of our greatest filmmakers ever. You could probably also convince me that he's capital-t The capital-g Greatest if you felt like it. But I have no idea why he made this movie. I can't wrap my head around it. After three decades of filmmaking, he wanted to try his hand at a remake? He even told The Verge that he has no idea why Park let him remake this movie! He said in a 2013 interview with the site, "One day I’m going to ask Park — I’ve yet to meet him — but one day I’m going to ask him why he allowed that. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d like to ask him." What! When he asked in the same interview if he would let one of his films be remade, he laughed, "That’s not happening." What is he talking about!
Screenplay: This is the last film that Mark Protosevich wrote. Chicken or egg? (I'm kidding, this is not his fault.) Park Chan-wook dropped his thoughts on the film's differences in 2022, saying, “The story was similar, but the little details were completely different, so it looked familiar but at the same time unfamiliar. The film itself was meant to look surreal, but I think it felt extra surreal to me as the original filmmaker.”
Performances: Josh Brolin takes the role of "Joe" and is fine. I don't have much of a relationship with him or his work, so he doesn't do anything for me personally. There's a funny moment on the Blu-ray's behind-the-scenes featurette where he says something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing but you get the point), "How do you prepare for a movie like this? Sit in solitary confinement for three days? That wouldn't even work because you would know you're getting out." Sounds to me like he just didn't want to sit in solitary for three days! He would love to be a method actor, but being method sucks so he doesn't. (To be fair, all the stunt guys in the same feature talk about what a badass he is.) The cast includes supporting performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Reddick, and Michael Imperioli, as well as some of the earliest performances from Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen - do with that information what you will.
Cinematography: Like a lot of this movie, Sean Bobbitt's cinematography is heavily inspired by the original.
Best moment: Elizabeth Olsen fans will tell you it's any time Elizabeth Olsen is on screen.
Fun fact: Will Smith was offered the lead role before Brolin. The hallway scene would've looked a lot different.
Imaginary accolade: Best Remake of Spike Lee's Career (Is it better than Da Sweet Blood of Jesus? I'm actually not sure...)
Everything is too long. Is it too long? Compared to the original's 120 minutes, 104 isn't bad.
Rating: It's fine on its own, but it can't stand on its own. It's really a mystery.
Credit: Plot synopsis from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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