Spike Lee has always thrived on discontent, and you can vaguely recognise the young director of ‘Do The Right Thing’ and ‘Malcolm X’ in ‘Oldboy’, his slick remake of Korean director Park Chan-wook’s violent 2003 revenge thriller. The plot is ludicrous: a businessman, Joe (Josh Brolin) is kidnapped, imprisoned for 20 years in a tiny hotel room, then, just as cryptically, released to seek out answers. But like a pro, Lee owns it, roughing up the pulp elements with sheer mouthiness.
As the captive, Brolin gives us a vulgar madman, riding high on vodka and the anger of divorce. It’s wonderful watching him suffer, the years passing by in a blur. Pathetic meals of takeaway dumplings come through a chute, and images of presidential inaugurations are piped in via a monitor. When Joe finally emerges into a faintly unreal today (shot in New Orleans, the city isn’t named), he has Michael Imperioli (‘The Sopranos’) as a bar-owning friend to greet him and shake things up a bit: where’s Joe’s daughter?
Fans of the first ‘Oldboy’ will recall an action scene involving a hammer and several skulls. That’s here, but Lee’s desperate bike chase through Chinatown tops it. Weaknesses from the original film remain, including a moustache-twirling villain (Sharlto Copley) straight out of a Bond film and a Freudian masterplan that unravels the more you think about it. Give credit to Lee for staying fresh, even if this feels like him slumming it.