Spike Lee’s Oldboy is as far from a Spike Lee Joint as could be imagined. It’s actually a Park Chan-Wook joint — a remake of Chan-Wook's 2003 South Korean cult classic about a man held in solitary confinement for 20 years before being loosing to wreak vengeance on his captors. Adapted from a manga comic-book, which was in turn adapted from an over-whelming desire to see what damage hammers do to foreheads, Chan-Wook’s film was a matte-black vengeance riff, decked out in playful camera angles, sicko violence, and one live octopus, which it’s hero ate, still wriggling, in one scene, although I like the think that afterwards, its cameo over, the octopus simply called “cut!” and resumed its position behind the camera.
What drew the maker of Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Clockers to resolving this Rubik’s cube is anyone’s guess. In Lee’s version, Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucette, a two-bit ad exec who wakes up after an alcoholic bender in a motel room, and remains locked up there for the next 20 years. He has no idea who is captors are, only that they feed him a thoughtful tray of dim-sum and vodka every day, and pay the cable bills on time, so that Joe can watch his wife’s murder being pinned on him in his absence, a succession of presidents being sworn in, and — as luck would have it — a series of martial arts programs, which come in very handy when one day, he wakes up in a field, sporting a new buzzcut, a newly toned body, an iPhone and a headful of vengeance. Game on.
Quite literally. Like Chan-Wook’s original, Lee’s film, with its vivid rendings of the flesh — by box cutter and hammer — and challenge-level plotting, has the maziness of a video game. Joe’s tormentor (Sharlto Copley), is with him every step of the way, helpfully phoning in clues that will enable him to solve the mystery — “Who I am and why did I imprison you?” — even throwing in an extra hostage for “a little added motivation,” when the plot needs a freshener. And if that sounds to you suspiciously like a screenwriter outsourcing his dramatic duties to his villain, then give yourself a gold star. I grew tired of these screenwriter-ex-machina bad guys, with their chummy phone manner and tedious riddles, around the time they first appeared: it’s been downhill since Speed, basically. Once a villain starts tailoring his plot so specifically to the dramatic needs of the film around him, you know it’s going to end in one of two ways, either 1) an “I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as-you-are-me” fudge, or 2) a vast import of new expository material.'