Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Oldboy (2013)

A man is kidnapped, taken from his family, and imprisoned in a hotel room for 20 years. During that time, he is framed for the murder of his wife. His daughter is given up for adoption. The day he is set free, his former captor proposes a challenge: find out who kidnapped him and why it was done – and he will have his just revenge.

The premise of Spike Lee’s adaptation of Oldboy is the same as Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of Oldboy, yet one crucial difference makes them as different as chalk and cheese. Park is a bold visual stylist who’s not afraid to show you what you don’t dare to see while Spike Lee is a bold writer-director who’s not afraid to tell you stories that you don’t dare to watch – but Oldboy isn’t a “Spike Lee joint”. Where Park Chan-wook made Old Boy into his very own creation, a stylised meditation on the nature of vengeance and hatred, you do not expect Spike Lee to make Old Boy into a Spike Lee Joint, a gutsy, no-holds-barred meditation on race relations in New York.

The end result is pretty much predictable once you consider the strengths of the man helming this year’s adaptation of the manga: Spike Lee’s film, while not as well made as Park’s, has better storytelling.

Park’s visually stunning and cheerfully sardonic colours give way to a more studied and well-thought story that doesn’t collapse like a house of cards once you exit the cinema. Spike Lee as a writer-director understands the weakness in the writing of both the manga and Park’s adaptation. The third act is completely reworked so that there’s no surprise reveal with a villain and a revenge backstory. I understand that in the old days, the original third act would have been a sign of incompetent writing.

Better yet, Spike Lee actually understands what makes a Tragedy or a Revenge Tragedy: any fall from grace can only be tragic and deserving, and a real fall, only if there is free will involved. I understand that in the old days, the original third act would also have been a sign of an inability to comprehend good storytelling. The revenge backstory and the denoument that was so botched in Park’s adaptation is much improved here.

Our verdict: Spike Lee’s Oldboy is well worth a watch if you’re not too attached to Park Chan-wook’s version and blind to its flaws.

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