It’s difficult to decide what is the most hatable facet of Spike Lee’s miserably pathetic attempt at renewing Old Boy. The poorly scripted and badly executed dialogue, ham fisted directing, overly theatrical acting, unnecessarily odd camera angles and laughable action sequences all compete for the title of ‘worst aspect of the film’.
The plot revolves around Joe Doucett (Brolin), an alcoholic and neglecting husband to his wife and daughter, who has been incarcerated for 20 years by a mystery enemy figure, then suddenly released without explanation. Joe is tasked with identifying his enigmatic enemy and their reasons for imprisoning/releasing him. Old Boy is a revenge film in more than one sense.
Those viewers who are familiar with the Korean original will find an almost identical plot with minor and insignificant alterations, all of which are detrimental to any emotional impact Park Chan Wook’s version found. The unnecessary inclusion of a ‘fake’ daughter figure comes to mind. Characters are turned into one dimensional clichés, and Lee has outdone himself in coaxing a comically off the mark performance from the usually outstanding and, until now, always convincing Josh Brolin.
The most puzzling thing about this remake is that apart from the obvious change of geographical location and cultural parameters, Lee isn’t really saying anything that the original hadn’t said already. In most cases it can be said that at least a dire American remake might reignite interest in the original, and this may be the case with Old Boy, but it would certainly be a shame for the unfortunate viewer to have had the powerful plot twist spoiled having watched Lee’s lethargic remake first.
This isn’t the Spike Lee that made Do The Right Thing some 24 years ago. Without radical ideals to promote or the fervency of youth behind him, Lee is left desperately clutching at any subversive material he can get his hands to try and appear rebellious. Rather than being innovative or revolutionary, Old Boy feels instead like Lee has resulted to emptily shouting out taboos to try and impress the big kids at school.
As the credits for Old Boy ran down the screen, and I stood up in the completely empty cinema, I could only take two positives from the film. Firstly, the film was finally over and I could leave. Secondly, there was at least minor consolation to be taken from the knowledge that no one else had been subjected to the two hours of uninspired and painfully dull filmmaking I’d just endured.
Tiresome and limp, Old Boy will struggle to impress even the most liberally minded and easily pleased audience.
Old Boy (2013), directed by Spike Lee, is released in UK cinemas by Universal Pictures on 6 December, Certificate 18.