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Josh Brolin
Samuel L. Jackson
Sharlto Copley
Elizabeth Olsen
Michael Imperioli
Pom Kelmentleff.
Spike Lee.
Mark Protosevich.
Running Time
104 minutes

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Drunken slob of an ad man Joe Doucett (Brolin) is kidnapped from the streets in 1993 and held for 20 years in a hotel room-style prison cell with no windows, no communications and no explanation. When he’s suddenly released 20 years later, and tasked with finding out what happened, he starts a vengeful quest for the truth...


When it was first announced, the remake of beloved cult Korean thriller Oldboy was greeted with the usual howls of disgust and claims that it would do a disservice to Park Chan-wook’s original. When Spike Lee came aboard and recruited an impressive cast that included Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley, the tide turned briefly in the other direction. So what is the final result? The truth is, this new Oldboy lies somewhere in between on the quality meter, but still fails to do enough to make it seem entirely necessary.

Lee and writer Mark Protosevich certainly haven’t embarrassed themselves with this new interpretation, which takes most of the major beats and bolts on with a few new ideas and character shadings. The essence of the main man’s torturous incarceration and his violent campaign to discover what was really behind it remains intact to fuel the film. A few elements – such as the infamous octopus scene – are gone, vanished so as to make something that appeals more to Western audiences than the Korean story. Making up for that is the majority of the ensemble, with Olsen and Imperioli particularly impressive. And it’s motored by Brolin’s brio, with the actor throwing himself into a role that demands he be destroyed and rebuilt on screen, going from a drunk arse to a scraggily bearded wreck and finally a confused, driven fighting machine. He makes you care about Joe’s journey even as you realise how much the man has done to bring all this upon himself with his behaviour. Lee also lets loose in the fight scenes, infusing them with a chaotic, determined and stylish life you wish the rest of the film was similarly able to channel.

Yet, clinging to some of the more outlandish facets (which will not be discussed here for the sake of those who have not seen the 2004 take), Lee’s effort feels like a cover band attempt at Park Chan-wook’s thriller, one that lost much of the vibrant, boundary-pushing weirdness along the way. And that’s despite giving Samuel L. Jackson one of the strangest hairdos he’s had since The Spirit.

Lee and his team have made a film that feels worth watching, but those who’ve seen both will spend a lot of time comparing the two, and “Newboy” comes up wanting.

Reviewed by James White

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Oldboy
Empire Star Rating

Why bother

I already seen the original and thought well how can bugger this up and they did , far too much expose at the start. Then the hallway scene nowhere as good as the original you felt the guy in the original was in danger. Elizabeth Olsen wasted , ending stupid , Samuel L Jackson character and Sharlito Copley miscast .Please Hollywood leave alone asian cinema classics . ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WozisWoz at 16:15, 18 February 2014 | Report This Post

directors cut?

The studio stripped 35 minutes off Spike Lee's 140 minute original cut...heres hoping they release an unrated directors cut. I dont understand why they commison a remake of Oldboy (of all movies), only for the fuckheads to cut the balls off the film! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Samurai7 at 07:30, 22 January 2014 | Report This Post

RE: Just... Odd...

A brave, uncompromised remake of the cult original. It is worth seeing. ... More

Posted by chang at 09:25, 31 December 2013 | Report This Post

Just... Odd...

My two favourite films; Oldboy and Infernal Affairs. One was remade with a unique vibe, not-exactly Oscar-worthy, but that is a different topic, where as the latest offering, isn't bad or good, just downright odd. When it was announced I wasn't a skeptic, more a wait=and-see, give-em-a-shot and see-what-happens guy and now feel should I have been a skeptic as I can't avoid comparing it to the original, which Empire deftly states. I didn't hate it, nor love, not care for it, nor understand ... More

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Posted by owenyunfat at 15:16, 13 December 2013 | Report This Post


Do western audiences even know what the title means? ... More

Posted by grucl at 12:02, 12 December 2013 | Report This Post


How can it possibly work? Seems pointless to try. The cultural setting is a huge factor to this story, that's why I don't like "The departed" it just doesn't work in the same way as infernal affairs. I am sick of all these pathetic remakes, why can't they try something new? It's not as if there isn't an abundance of great source material ... More

Posted by Gram Woods at 23:56, 10 December 2013 | Report This Post


Nah, it bombed apparently. But then it is a dreadful rehash. ... More

Posted by spamandham at 16:40, 06 December 2013 | Report This Post

I can imagine this will do quite well in the states.. which is, let's face it, the sole reason for any english-speaking remake. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by chris wootton at 13:55, 05 December 2013 | Report This Post

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