The Five Major Fails of Spike Lee’s Oldboy

It’s been a little over a day since I saw both versions of Oldboy — one by Spike Lee and one by Park Chan-wook — back to back. The more I reflect on the Spike Lee version, the worse and worse it gets in my head. So I’ll just barf out the major wrongs about this sad re-make and be done with it.

This write-up will be chock full of spoilers which will save you a lot of time and money. I’m also assuming that my readers have seen the original, Korean version of Oldboy. And if you’re keeping track at home, both versions (American and Korean) are based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi.

Right from the get go, I knew the American version of the film was dumbed down and playing it safe. The movie title screen had 20 tick marks instead of 15. In the original movie, Oh Dae-su had been jailed for 15 years (it was ten years in the manga), but Spike Lee’s Joe Doucett was imprisoned for 20 years. Apparently, it was safer to say that Doucett’s daughter was 23 years old, rather than 18. However, Lee’s film also revealed that the villain’s father was having sex with his own 16-year old daughter (not the villain having sex with his sister as in Park Chan-wook’s film). Perhaps this saved us from seeing Joe Doucett as incestuous AND a pedophile compared to just being incestuous.

Another red flag was that there was lengthy setup of our “hero” being an asshole. He calls his wife a bitch and tells her that their 3-year old daughter wouldn’t notice if he’s not there for her birthday because she’s so young. Park Chan-wook was brilliant in keeping the audience and the hero in the dark about the reason for his imprisonment! Instead the viewer developed no pity for Lee’s main character.

One large plot difference with Lee’s version is the complete absence of the hypnotist and the hypnotic conditioning that, in the original film, explains the movie and leads to a rather brilliant ending. Instead, Lee’s re-write was to manipulate our hero via TV show segments to convince Doucett that his daughter was alive and well. These TV show segments were so unusually well-timed that the viewer knows that it’s fake and a set-up. First major fail.

The second major fail was the casting of Samuel L. Jackson in a role that was not right for him. The role was the “motel prison captor” who, in Park’s film, gets his hand chopped off; remember him? Samuel L. Jackson as a whiney hired-hand begging not to be tortured was just boring and under utilized his talents. The torture scene itself was a tween version of torture porn: pouring salt on open wounds while SLJ squeals. Boring.

And where’d the hell did that salt shaker come from anyway!?

A third major fail was deconstructing the fantastic hallway fight scene into a senseless, story-less jumble. If you get hit by a 2×4 plank of wood, doesn’t it hurt? Apparently not for Doucett, who just ignores it and keeps fighting. But when he removes a knife from his back, he squeals and squeals and squeals. I won’t go into the other levels of failure and why it didn’t work, but it was pretty bad in conveying any sort of story within the fighting like Park’s fight scene achieved.

The fourth major fail was in the reveal of the incest. Though I will give props to Josh Brolin for his work as an actor during the reveal. But then, the most laughable thing happens: the villain shoots himself on the spot. Yes… he just takes himself out of the picture. Just. Like. That. In Park’s Oldboy, this is the point where Dae-su begs his heart out. By removing the begging, Lee was able to completely skip over the epic tongue cutting because, you know, an American audience couldn’t handle that. But Americans love torture porn, though. What the what!?

The fifth major fail and second plot difference is the ending. It was like Lee put down a soft feather pillow for the audience to land on. As you may remember, Dae-su asks the hypnotist to make him forget all the horrible things that happened and when he is reunited with his daughter, we see this wonderful struggling, mixed emotion from Dae-su. It’s literally heart-wrenching, a little hopeful, and a little painful. You can’t take your eyes off of Choi Min-sik’s performance.

Instead, Lee decided that everyone should live happily ever after; therefore, Doucett ends up with a fortune and sends a share of it to help his daughter start her life over, telling her he’ll never see her again. Meanwhile, he puts himself back in the motel jail and has hidden camera feed of his daughter in the room. Yes, you heard me right: a dad that spies on his daughter from a small jail. I have no idea how that ending was suppose to make sense.

The minor fails include:

  • There is NO octopus eating scene, though one appears as an homage…



  • There’s not an apparent explanation for how our hero meets his daughter in the first place.
  • There was no “switch to turn my heart off'” gadget.

So there you have it! This is all you need to know about Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake. I just saved you a few bucks.

You’re welcome.

12 thoughts on “The Five Major Fails of Spike Lee’s Oldboy

  1. As the author, I had to make a fact correction regarding “*There’s not an apparent explanation for how our hero meets his daughter in the first place.”
    Doucett follows the “Temptress” who leads him to where his daughter is working. There you have it!

    1. I’m shocked you complained about spoilers Mike, since I figured you can’t even read. If you could, you would have noticed the first sentence in the second paragraph that warns “This write-up will be chock full of spoilers….” Then, to solidify your role as ignorant douche bag of the year, you blame the author for ruining the movie by flying off the deep in a crazy rage of insults worthy of a 6th grade playground, all because…..well……you just didn’t possess the necessary higher brain activity to prevent causing yourself the unjustifiable rage you felt for such a little thing. I’m no therapist (although you may think about seeing one), but do you you think maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the author you were so angry with, but rather, years and years of building frustration at your own near retardation level of intelligence finally boiling over? As in, this last self inflicted act of stupidity on your part was the proverbial “straw that broke the camels back”? I recommend trying….. I mean REALLY trying not being such a moron in the future, and maybe you won’t have to spray your inwardly directed anger at everyone but yourself. I wish you luck with that Michael (that’s the full version of your name by the way, in case you were wondering. Thought I’d save you at least a little more frustration by letting you know that).

      1. Get off the author dick Josephine mike gave his opinion but I guess you have the right to dickeat smh

  2. He doesn’t spy on his daughter with a hidden camera at the end. They just show her driving away superimposed on the day / night screen behind him.

    I never understood the smile at the end, but I assume that the Buddha duck represented karma (he got back what he gave out) and the smile may have represented an enlightened stage for him, an end to his chaotic experience.

  3. What I didn’t understand was why were the other ‘dozen’? people imprisoned on the multiple cam shot that SLJ was watching. Why were they there?

    1. Took me a minute to figure that one out. Apparently, Samuel L Jackson runs the prison and rented it out for use, hence, the scene with the tape recording of the deal he made with the main antagonist (sorry, forgot his name >.<) and why Joe was able to cut a deal to re-enter the jail even after the main villain's death.

  4. I finally watched the South Korean version. It’s powerful cinema indeed. I find it hard to believe Spike Lee could adapt this film for an American audience. It’s not the octopus scene or the fighting that makes it so brilliant. It’s the cultural nuance around the scene where the protagonist begs the antagonist to not to reveal the truth to his daughter. The way Oh Daesu pleads, the cutting of his own tongue, were powerful in a way that Spike Lee underestimated. But Spike Lee never felt sorry for a damn thing he ever did. It could have been the best Hollywood thriller ever since the days of Hitchcock.

  5. I’ve seen the original Oldboy but I’ve yet to see the remake if private prisons like the 1 in Oldboy actually exist then I imagine that a lot of money must be needed to run them.

  6. Korean version killed American version. The sex scene in the American version was so overdramatic it was almost funny. Also, Josh Brolins character didn’t gain any sympathy like the Korean protagonist.

  7. Did you know that there’s a Bollywood remake of Oldboy? It’s entitled Zinda.

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