In the 1960s, cereal box contests allowed poorer kids the opportunity to enter if they supplied something called a “reasonable facsimile” of the product’s logo. Spike Lee has supplied American and other Anglophone viewers, fearful of films with subtitles, a reasonable facsimile of Chan-wook Park’s violent, beautiful, Palme d’Or-winning, taboo-stomping revenge fable Oldboy.
The story, based loosely on a Japanese comic, concerns a dissolute businessman (played in this version by Josh Brolin) out on the town in a drunken state who then suddenly wakes up in a windowless, door-less bad hotel room, where he is imprisoned for the next 20 years. But that’s just the setup, beginning somewhere in a pulpier version of the Hitchcock universe. The real tale unfolds in a more time-honored combination of Greek and Jacobean tragedy, as the businessman violently crashes through a landscape rich in revenge, incest, and a mad grope for meaning.
Lee, who hasn’t made a movie this good since his long run of personal films in the early 1990s, still can’t come near the real reason Parks’s film was such a sensation at Cannes ten years ago and is still a cult classic today. And it all boils down to style. Park was restlessly inventing ways to make comic book hyperbole translate to a big screen in a way that made you wince but not turn away. This Oldboy is tame by comparison, though many might find it violent. Lee’s film is lucid, fascinating, and despite a more intensely lurid family romance twist, a reasonably good fake.>