In the 1990s Joe (Josh Brolin) wakes up locked in a room where he is kept for 20 years, away from his wife and daughter. When he’s mysteriously released he goes in search of answers…and revenge.
I recently wrote an article on this film, and whether it’s right to do a remake primarily for the purpose of translating the Korean original into English. While it’s certainly true that not enough has been changed here to warrant a complete reworking, I begrudgingly admit the switch to English improved my enjoyment of the film overall.
It’s a fairly complex thriller, and not having to read subtitles makes it far easier to follow, and to appreciate what’s going on above them. It also makes it easier to relate to the characters and the considerable emotional strain they are put through. On top of that, it made me want to see the original again, and if it makes anyone else do the same it can only be a good thing.
That being said, I stand by my original conclusion that this is more a case for high quality dubbing, and better promotion in English speaking countries, than it is for a complete remake. Yet the power of the original story, once again told here in full, violent and shocking fashion is undeniable in this remake.
The combination of the brilliant, clever plot with superbly done action sequences and over the top violence is what made the original so popular, and the fact that all these boxes are ticked here makes this a very hard film not to enjoy. It’s like Only God Forgives with a plot.
Josh Brolin is absolutely terrific as Joe, both in terms of his physical commitment to the role, and the emotional pull of his performance. Samuel L Jackson does what he’s always done in Lee’s films and makes a huge impact in a small role, donning a super cool blond Mohawk and red jacket which add to his already considerable presence. And Sharlto Copley is once again both unrecognisable and magnificent, with the late blooming South African continuing to build his reputation as an outstanding character actor.
The visual quality remains with a few Spike Lee twists while keeping the essence of the original. The famous hallway fight scene is redone and is equally impressive, even if there’s a sense that Lee may be trying to outdo Chan-wook Park.
Did this film need to be made? No. Is enough changed to justify a remake? Certainly not. Is it still an incredibly enjoyable and powerful thriller? Yes it is. True, most of its strengths are thanks to the people who made the original, but that doesn’t make this remake any less enjoyable.
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