Spike Lee’s Oldboy Looks as Stylish and Bloody as the Original

Slate's Culture Blog
July 10 2013 6:36 PM

Trailer Critic: Spike Lee’s Oldboy

Samuel_Jackson_Oldboy
Samuel L. Jackson is Chaney in the remake of Oldboy.

Still from the trailer

When it was announced that there would be an American remake of Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s masterful, twisted revenge flick Oldboy, many wondered what the point of that could possibly be. The original is realized with such gory panache by Park and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, and features such an iconic performance by Choi Min-sik, that it was hard to see how anyone could escape its shadow. When another master stylist, Spike Lee, was added as a director, things got a little more interesting—but now there were new questions to ask. Would Lee’s style work with the material? Would he make it his own, or would it be closer to a shot-for-shot remake, à la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho?

Now we have the first trailer, and thus our first glimpse at whether this will be a Spike Lee joint, or just a Hollywood import with American stars.

It’s of course impossible to know for sure from these few minutes, but what we see here looks awfully faithful to the original. Some famous shots appear to be back pretty much intact, the infamous hammer has returned (understandably, I suppose), and at one point star Josh Brolin even sports an off-kilter ’do reminiscent of Choi’s crazy hair in the original version. The violence, too, looks no less shocking.

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What’s distinct to Lee’s vision? It’s hard to say so far. We get passing references to 9/11 and Katrina—subjects close to Lee that he has addressed in the past—but nothing so visually distinctive as, say, one of his signature dolly shots. For better or worse, no Spike Lee movie has ever looked less like a Spike Lee movie.

Perhaps the most promising twist is the cast. In addition to the dependable Brolin in the challenging lead role, and Martha Marcy May Marlene’s Elizabeth Olsen and The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli in supporting roles, Samuel L. Jackson will play one of the movie’s main villains. Fresh off a similarly deranged perfromance in Django Unchained, he brings as much freshness and style as anyone here. For now, it looks like Jackson might be the real reason to go back.

Previously from the Trailer Critic:
Anchorman 2
The Wolf of Wall Street
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity
Ender’s Game
Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium
Only God Forgives
Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited
The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.