Posted by: markfender | August 5, 2014

Oldboy(s)

It’s time for dueling remakes.

old-boy-posterThe original Oldboy is the 2003 Park Chan-Wook film about a man who is locked up for fifteen years under mysterious circumstances. When he gets out, he seeks vengeance against the man who locked him up. It was a celebrated film, getting all kinds of accolades, and rightly so. It’s a powerful film. What I enjoy in particular is how the revenge plots unfolds – it’s actually the story of the antagonist’s revenge against the protagonist.

Spike Lee remade Oldboy in 2013 with Josh Brolin. It hits pretty much the same beats, but cuts some subplots and alternates the ending. In particular, the original impetus for the whole revenge thing kicking off is changed to a far less satisfactory reason (while the themes of incest are still there, they’re changed enough so that the method of revenge doesn’t quite follow with the act needing revenge for). However, it’s a tighter film and excises the stupid hypnotism thing, so it gets some points for that.

If there’s an issue with the original version, it’s the hypnotism angle. Please stop it with hypnotism being capable of completely rewriting someone’s history. Next you’ll be telling me that we only use 10% of our brains. There are also some plot points that don’t work, I don’t know if it’s a language barrier thing or a cultural thing, but a few “connect the dots” moments didn’t connect any dots for me. And I’m kind of perplexed how Mi-do doesn’t seem to ever realize what’s going on – unless that hypnotism was super-amazing. However, Park Chan-Wook is a great visual storyteller and has a lot of beautiful shots that really make the film.

OLDBOY_800x1236Spike Lee is not as good a filmmaker as Park Chan-Wook. He’s a good storyteller, but he’s never going to be known for a visual style. Hell, all the best shots in the remake are copied straight from the original. However, there are plot elements that work better in the American version. The time of incarceration was changed to twenty years (probably so as to make the revelations later a little less creepy), and Josh Brolin actually reacts to how the world has changed in that period of time, a strange miss of the original. Josh Brolin is definitely good in the remake, but the villain sucks. Sharlto Copley isn’t even in the same league as Yoo Ji-tae. I never felt any menace from him. Perhaps it’s the tighter running time, but the original gave more depth to the antagonist that worked better.

So, which one should you watch? I’m not sure. The original is better in most aspects, but has that stupid hypnotism thing. The remake does a convincing job of working around that plot point, but suffers from a bad villain. The remake gets rid of the voiceover as well, which worked for me a little better. Ultimately, the original is considered one of the 10 Best Asian films, whereas the remake bombed. So probably go for the Korean version. And maybe read the Wikipedia description for the differences between the two. They both feature hammers.

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