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Film / Oldboy (2013)

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Oldboy is a 2013 thriller film directed by Spike Lee, and a remake of the famed South Korean film from 2003, itself loosely based on the Japanese manga series of the same name. The film stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Samuel L. Jackson, Pom Klementieff, and Rami Malek.

It follows alcoholic advertising executive Joe Doucett (Brolin) as he is kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. When he is inexplicably released, Joe embarks upon an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his punishment.

The trailer can be seen here (NSFW).

Tropes featured in this film:

  • Adaptational Comic Relief: Downplayed. Chaney has many of the same threatening and sleazy traits as his 2003 counterpart Mr. Park, but Samuel L. Jackson takes the character in a more deliberately comedic direction.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The protagonist of the 2003 film is very much a vengeance-driven Anti-Hero with more than a few questionable actions under his belt, with his most moral actions revolving around his Morality Pet Mi-do. The protagonist here, while still very brutal, is driven by the need to protect his daughter instead of just personal revenge, though inversely he was also far more of an asshole in the past.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Young Joe is an obnoxious, alcoholic and sexist prankster, while Dae-su in the original is only seen embarrassing himself while staggering drunk on a bender.
  • Adaptational Location Change: As with the original 2003 film, the remake moves the setting from Japan to the United States.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Downplayed with the Big Bad. The lengths both Woo-jin and Adrian go to in order to hurt the protagonist are largely the same, but the difference in motivations make Adrian less sympathetic. The men are both angry at the protagonist gossiping about their sister, but Oh Dae-su simply witnessed something that creeped him out whilst Joe witnessed a horrible criminal act (Adrian's father having sex with his own daughter). Neither man is justified in what they did, but Woo-jin avenging his innocent sister's suicide adds a sympathetic dimension to him while Adrian's motive is partially to avenge his father, who killed his family and molested both his children, which just further shows how twisted he is.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • In the original, the protagonist's confrontation with the villain's bodyguard ends with the bodyguard about to kill the protagonist, only for the villain to kill the bodyguard. In this film, the protagonist kills the bodyguard himself after a fairly brief fight.
    • Adrian is less unstoppable than Woo-jin. In this film, Joe punches and manhandles Adrian in the climax. In the original, Dae-su never lays a finger on Woo-jin, who spends much of his revenge simply laughing at Dae-su.
  • Age-Gap Romance: There's a noticeable age difference between Joe and Marie (their actors have a 20-year age difference), which is lampshaded by Marie's co-worker when he gives Joe a If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her... speech. In short, he's old enough to be Marie's father. And he is.
  • Berserk Button: Never call Adrian's sister a "whore" in front of him, as Chucky learns the very hard way.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Adrian succeeds in his plan to make Joe unknowingly have sex with his own daughter Marie, and a horrified Joe writes Marie a letter saying they can never see each other again, which Joe ensures by using some of the diamonds Adrian gave him to pay Chaney to return him to the captivity of the hotel room, allowing Chaney to continue his kidnapping scheme untouched. On the other hand, Adrian is dead and his rampage has finally stopped, and Joe and Marie not seeing each other again is presented as the best thing to do for the situation, especially for her so as to allow her to live a normal life, plus Joe actually leaves most of the diamonds to her. This is in stark contrast with how in the original Oh Dae-su got himself hypnotized to erase the truth of Mi-do being his daughter from his memory so that he can continue having a romantic relationship with her, and even then the final shot of that film implied that the memory wipe actually didn't work.
  • Break the Haughty: What is done to Joe by film's end.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Than the Korean movie, with Gorn being favored over Gory Discretion Shot. For example, the implied and humorous hammer kill from the original has been replaced with a hammer-claw to the face.
  • Bodyguard Babes: Adrian's bodyguard is an attractive woman. He seems to be aware of it, too, as it's implied that they are in a relationship.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Joe against the students on the football field.
  • Dark Action Girl: Adrian's bodyguard is a woman.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Marie apparently had one of these, having lived in foster homes, and drug use was also involved. Adrian claims to have had a hand in this when revealing to Joe that she's Joe's daughter, but he doesn't specify how.
  • Darker and Edgier: The original film had several moments of Black Comedy and downright surreal sequences, while this film treats things much more seriously and feels more like a thriller. Subverted with the ending, which gives the film a somewhat happier and less ambiguous outcome.
  • Dragon Lady: Adrian's bodyguard is a tall, powerful woman wearing a Chinese gown.
  • Driven to Suicide: Adrian ends up committing suicide after completing his plan.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Adrian wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond movie.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Adrian's bodyguard is an silent, emotionless Asian woman who constantly dresses in black colors.
  • Fanservice: Joe and Marie have sex in a hotel, and the viewer gets a good look at Elizabeth Olsen's boobs.
    • Pom Klementieff in barely there lingerie in a scene with Adrian.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Joe goes through a bit of this following his release.
  • Foreign Remake: An American film of the original Korean.
  • Frame-Up: Joe is framed for the murder of his wife by a mysterious party. It turns that the one responsible for the murder was Adrian.
  • Gambit Roulette: Perhaps even more so than in the original film. Like Woo-jin, Adrian's plan depends entirely on the protagonist having a relationship with a specific woman, who turns out to be his own daughter, whom he hasn't seen since she was a baby. However, in the 2003 film, Woo-jin actually used hypnotism to ensure that Oh Dae-su and Mi-do (the Joe and Marie analogues in that film) would fall in love. No such thing is present on this film, meaning that Adrian more or less bet that Joe and Marie would have sex somehow.
  • Gender Flip: The bodyguard of Adrian's counterpart in the original Korean film was a man; here, she's a woman.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Joe, when he finds out that Marie is his daughter. He lets out an anguished scream and is left a blubbering and incoherent mess.
  • Heroic BSoD: When Joe realizes he's been manipulated into sleeping with his own daughter, he has one of these.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Marie's co-worker gives Joe one of these, noting Marie's Dark and Troubled Past and saying that she doesn't need more misery on her life.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Joe tortures Chaney by flaying his neck with a Stanley knife to obtain information about the "Stranger" who arranged for his kidnapping.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joe is a sexist alcoholic schmuck, but as we see over the course of the plot most of his misdeeds stem from thoughtlessness, not evil and he does have a line he won't cross.
  • Karma Houdini: Chaney keeps his business, receives a big cash bribe for sparing Joe, and gets a fortune in diamonds from Joe in the end.
  • Kick the Dog: At one point during his captivity, Joe catches and befriends a mouse. Later, after the mouse has given birth to a litter, it is killed and served to Joe as a meal.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Adrian is very wealthy and has high-class tastes.
  • Meaningful Name: Joe Doucett strikes the ear in much the same way as Oh Dae-su. Sadly, such a direct translation removes any potential for the double-meaning that Oh Dae-su's name held. Namely, that Oh Dae-su was named after Oedipus, the mythical character who unknowingly slept with his own mother, except here, Joe Doucett/Oh Dae-su unknowingly slept with his own daughter.
  • Memetic Mutation: Thanos has sex with Wanda.
  • Modesty Towel: Marie wears one when she and Joe hole up in a hotel. Not that it stays on her for long, as she lets it slip before having sex with Joe.
  • Mook Chivalry: When Joe fights his way out of the abandoned factory after interrogating Chaney. Unlike the original, the fight does not take place in a narrow hallway.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • When Joe Doucett goes into a Chinese restaurant, trying to find the source of the dumplings he ate for 20 years, the camera lingers on an octopus in a fish tank. This is a nod to the original and the famous scene where Oh Dae-su eats a live octopus.
    • Joe interacts with a woman wearing angel wings. This is a reference to Oh Dae-su's first scene, where he drunkenly puts on angel wings he bought for his daughter.
    • The severed tongue is a reference to Oh Dae-su cutting off his tongue.
  • The Oner: The "hallway" fight is again mostly filmed in one take, though it's less two-dimensional this time.
  • Paper Tiger: Adrian's bodyguard gives off a tough demeanor and a confrontation with Joe is built-up through the film. When they finally face off in the climax, she only manages to get a couple of licks on Joe before he slashes her throat and kills her.
  • Pater Familicide: Part of Adrian's backstory is that he is a survivor of this.
  • Pet the Dog: Joe befriends a mouse he finds in his bathroom and makes a pet of it, growing quite attached to it, showing that while he was/is an odious and thoughtless person, he is not truly evil.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Joe stops drinking alcohol (though not really of his own volition), exercises and practices fighting while being held captive. He's in much better shape 20 years later.
  • Product Placement: There are several shots of iPhones and MacBooks, Chucky teaches Joe how to use Google, and Marie uses Shazam to identify a ringtone.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Adrian definitely comes off as this, even more so than his counterpart in the Korean film, as noted by his freakout when killing Chucky after Chucky called his sister a whore.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Subverted. Joe smashes the mirror because he wants to cut his wrists with the broken glass of it during his 20 years of solitude in captivity.
  • Shout-Out: Spike Lee's brother Cinqué Lee plays a bellboy in this movie just as he did in the Jim Jarmusch film Mystery Train.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Marie gets orphaned, her mother is murdered, and she's unknowingly manipulated into an incestuous relationship with her presumed-dead father... all for a gossipy comment her father made when he was a teenager.
  • Slashed Throat: In the climax, Joe disposes Adrian's bodyguard by slashing her throat.
  • Surprise Incest: Marie and Joe end up having sex in a hotel — before Adrian eventually reveals to Joe that Marie is actually Mia, Joe's daughter, and not just an unrelated woman who he happened to meet.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Joe sometimes does this, such as the scene where he gets drunk and shouts, "I'm drunk!"
  • Token Romance: Subverted in the case of Joe and Marie; their attraction (and subsequent sex scene) comes off as particularly shoehorned, but as it turns out it's part of the villain's revenge scheme.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Joe gets much tougher after training himself over 20 years in the hotel room.
  • Wham Shot:
    • While not played up as one, the reveal that Chaney has got a dozen other people imprisoned in the same overly elaborate fashion is going to hit some people.
    • After Adrian reveals that the "Mia" Joe has seen through the film was actually an actress at his employ, he shows Joe how the actual Mia grew up, and as the pictures progress and she ages up, they reveal that the grown-up Mia is actually Marie, the woman Joe ended up sleeping with.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: After droppin' a hundred punks and finally getting that knife out of his back, Joe barely stumbles out of Chaney's place... and is immediately picked up by Adrian's people.