I've seldom been as surprised — or moved — as I was by Oldboy. I was peripherally aware of the Korean film which came out some ten years ago, but I didn't really know anything about it. Which was lucky, because any prior warning might have diminished the impact of this great motion picture.
And it is great. It's one of those extraordinary, dark films — like Fight Club, Killing Them Softly or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans — to which American cinema occasionally gives rise. It was extraordinary and shocking and beautifully made.
Not to mention deeply moving and ultimately heartbreaking. I think it's probably the best film Spike Lee has ever directed, though I fear it's too bleak and brutal to gain the huge audience it deserves. In — very brief — summary it is about a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for decades, then released to try and put his shattered life back together.
The cast is pure platinum: Josh Brolin is the hero and is quite wonderful, Elizabeth Olsen is terrific as the woman who helps him on his quest, Samuel Jackson does a great turn as a bizarre heavy with some nifty costumes and Sharlto Copley, who was an unforgettable villain in Elysium, is an unforgettable villain again here, in an utterly different mode.
Lee does a superb job on the film, aided immensely by his writer Mark Protosevich.
Protosevitch has been involved in a number of high profile productions. He co-wrote the screenplay for the most recent adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. But his most towering achievement was the brilliant sf-tinged serial killer story The Cell, whose script was entirely Protosevitch's creation. Another favourite film of mine and one whose macabre and ravishing visual sense is similar to Oldboy's.
Oldboy has its roots in a 2003 South Korean film with a screenplay by Hwang Jo-yoon, Im Joon-hyeong and the director Park Chan-wook, based on a Japanese graphic novel (or, more accurately, a manga) by writer Garon Tsuchiya and illustrator Nobuaki Minegishi. The Japanese comic, when reprinted in translation in America won a prestigious Eisner Award. You can buy it from the excellent publishers Dark Horse.
The Spike Lee and Mark Protosevich version of Oldboy is not a movie for the faint-hearted. It goes to some very dark places. But if you have the disposition for it, you will find it's one of the great films of the early 21st Century.
(Image credits: All the Oldboy posters are from Aceshowbiz. There is an interesting dispute reported on that site about the artist who allegedly created some of the posters. More details from the Guardian. And you can check out the comparison here. The red poster for The Cell is from Terrorifilo. The blue German poster for The Cell is from BlackBoxBlue, an intelligent blog posting about the movie.)