Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’: The Reviews Are In

MTV News rounds up the early word on Lee's remake of the most famous Korean film of the millennium.

Ten years after the original showed moviegoers just how twisted a revenge saga could be, “Oldboy” is once again being released from its cell. The remake sees American icon Spike Lee putting his stamp on the most famous Korean film of the millennium, but did the director do the right thing, or have critics found there was something lost in translation?

More or less the same story that genre fans have been trying their best not to spoil for you since 2003, “Oldboy” is the sordid saga of a beefy alcoholic named Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) who’s mysteriously abducted one drunken night and imprisoned inside of a windowless motel room without any explanation.

After 20 long years of watching TV and eating dumplings (always dumplings), Joe is suddenly released back into the wild, whereupon he immediately sets out to discover who locked him up and why. Deprived of his family but assisted by a lovely young outreach worker played by Elizabeth Olsen, Joe sets out for answers, and he’ll mercilessly attack anyone who gets in his way with a hammer.

Remakes Aren’t All Bad, But This One …
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with remakes, and to suggest otherwise is to deny the fundamental nature of storytelling itself. Of course, it’s certainly understandable that contemporary film audiences might feel otherwise, as the laziness and lack of vision with which Hollywood has repurposed pre-existing films has burdened the idea of a ‘remake’ with needless cynicism, our recent commercial cinema effectively suggesting that a good story is only worth telling once. Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ is fascinating in how it reinforces that sad notion while also being an abysmal film in its own right, the movie practically martyring itself in order to illustrate how the problem with remakes is rooted in practice rather than theory.” — David Ehrlich, Film.com

Every Director Needs A Personal ‘Wicker Man’
“There are plenty of howlers in this one. Imperioli’s strangulation ranks with Nic Cage shouting ‘Not the bees!’ in ‘The Wicker Man,’ and Samuel L. Jackson undercuts any real drama shouting in his ‘Aww hell, naw!’ voice as he’s being tortured. (Also, his hair makes him look like a ‘Hunger Games’ reject.)” — Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush

Perfect For People Who Like Revenge Stories With Octopus On The Side
“Revenge, like octopus, is a dish best served cold, but Spike Lee’s disappointingly straight remake of ‘Oldboy’ is a lukewarm meal at best. Granted, with its hammered heads and severed tongues, Park Chan-wook’s gleefully sadistic 2003 thriller was itself little more than a grotesque adolescent wallow, but it certainly didn’t want for novelty or style — neither of which, alas, factors much into this Westernized and depersonalized genre outing.” — Justin Chang, Variet

‘Oldboy’ And 8 Other Disgusting Movie Twists

It’s Not A Remake, It’s A Remix!
“The outcome is a capable riff on Park’s more innovative original that only tweaks a handful of noteworthy ingredients. Lee has characterized his take on the material as a ‘reinterpretation’ rather than a remake, although it might be more aptly described as a remix — like a Spike Lee joint slammed head-first into a Park Chan-wook one. The resulting explosion is unquestionably a wild ride.” — Eric Kohn, Indiewire

You Don’t Need James Bond For A Great Bond Villain
“Much of ‘Oldboy’ is gruesomely violent. Joe bashes men with hammers and tortures a video surveillance expert (Samuel L. Jackson, done up like a sci-fi peacock) by plucking bits of flesh out of his neck. Yet the puzzle Joe pieces together unfolds with an arresting logic, even as it’s bathed in blood. Elizabeth Olsen is sensual and urgent as the medical worker who falls under Joe’s desperate spell, and Sharlto Copley, as an enigmatic billionaire, hypnotizes you with his wounded malevolence. (Please cast him as a Bond villain.) In the end, the most impressive performance may be Spike Lee’s. He uses skill without gimmickry, flash without fuss, to tap the mesmerizing soul of this pulp.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly