Directed Spike Lee. 104 mins.
Worth my time? Yes, but my expectations were modest. (Seen for free at Arclight Hollywood)
Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 K-vengeance classic isn’t a must-see by any stretch, nor is it the wet noodle (or raw octopus) that many critics have alleged. As I expected, this new version lacks the can’t-look-awayness of the original. Park, is a master of the sensuous and visceral (as his Stoker demonstrated so well earlier this year). Lee is more accustomed to illustrating his points with musical numbers and angry white dudes. To paraphrase a Mr. Thomas Hardy, Lee merely adopted the revenge thriller; Park was born in it.
The film would have been a disaster if Lee had tried to imitate Park’s sensibilities. Luckily, he makes no such attempt. Even though Lee doesn’t have a style that meshes well with the Oldboy story, there was some fun to be had in seeing his interpretation of the material. I’ve glanced through a lot of critics who have panned the film for being stylistically flat and lacking Lee’s interest, but they’re wrong. Sure, Lee isn’t going to be as enthusiastic about this film as he was about Do the Right Thing, but what the fuck were these folks expecting?
Even a mercenary director can leave an unmistakable mark on a film adaptation (see Lynch’s Dune). Here, Lee sniffs out plenty of opportunities of to ruminate on themes such as:
- Absent fathers
- White exploitation of successful black men
- White men hypersexualizing black women
- Frustration at New York’s Asian population
- Street-level charity and activism for the underprivileged
- The arrogance and decadence of old money and society’s elites
- Grotesque imagery of Americana
- Hurricane fuckin’ Katrina
- More New York than you can shake a stick at
- George Zimmerman’s home address is constantly displayed in the bottom-right corner of the frame.
Some of Lee’s flourishes feel silly, but I got a kick outta them. The core cast is solid, and Sharlto Copley is as believable as his cartoonish role will allow. Sam Jackson, of course, is so goddamn Sam Jackson that he instantly grows tiresome, but I suppose I’m resigned to that.
Aside: The two frame stories are gone, but it also eliminates the lazy narration of the original. Call it a lateral move.
(Seen and written on 2013-11-27)