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Bad Movie Tuesday: The Lose/Lose Remake of Oldboy

March 11, 2014

Oldboy movie poster

There is a momentum changing moment in Oldboy when Brolin is released from captivity after twenty years. He emerges from a large box and chases down a mysterious woman. He stops her violently in front of some football players and it all goes wrong. The players react to the male/female violence and immediately get the living sh** kicked out of them. The scene is brutal, unnecessary and likely results in one persons death. The fight establishes the toughness of the title character but also proves how unnecessary the film is.

I won’t make this an original vs. remake write-up. However, in the original the recently released main character finds some street punks and gives them a good beating. The moment is funny, unexpected and you don’t mind that some hoods got their face punched. The moment worked because the film is so cartoonish and you didn’t feel like innocent bystanders got destroyed. The remake features total stereotypes receiving WAY too much punishment for trying to do something good. I think Spike Lee tried to do something good but ended up like the bloodied folk. He fought an uphill battle that was bound to disappoint due to directing choices and studio meddling.  The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd sums it up well:

Park’s film was wildly irreverent, grinning manically in the face of torture, suicide, incest, and other taboos. Lee’s Oldboy is a more somber affair. That said, maybe straight-faced isn’t the right approach for such an over-the-top narrative, pulled from a Japanese manga and built around one of the most elaborate revenge schemes in recent movie history. Park knew he was making pulp, and directed accordingly.

Oldboy does not feel like a completed film. It is overly edited and doesn’t come close to the slow burn of the original. It starts off well enough as it expands the prison sentence to twenty years and gives us more time in the hotel room. However, once he is loose the movie plows forward and loses any creative nuance that was created. My biggest problem with the film is the director’s cut excuse used by Spike Lee.  The film had many hurdles to clear (insane fanboys, incest, hammer fights) and that wasn’t helped by a mythical three-hour cut.

Both Spike Lee and Brolin commented on how the three-hour cut is much better than what was dumped into the cinemas. However, the remake shouldn’t have been three hours. Park Chan-Wook told the story in two hours and it was a beautifully insane cult classic. Thus, why make a longer remake of a two-hour movie? Did Spike really think audiences would sit through a 180 minute remake of an incredibly violent cult classic?

There was bound to be cuts and the film suffered. The original fight scene which was filmed in a single take is now chopped up and features bad guys who only want to get beat up. It is poorly set up, sped up and sacharine compared to the original. Lee wanted it to be bigger (three floors) and Brolin was pushed to his physical limit (five weeks of prep) but it was hindered by cheekily dressed villains, brutality and a studio edit.

Brutality is not a substitute for quality. Oldboy’s brutality felt organic to the story. However, the violence in the remake feels shoehorned in. It never feels right. The original set a cornball/bonkers atmosphere that felt like a parallel world which made the violence palatable. The remake feels grounded in realism with the occasional sped up action scene. There are moments when Brolin literally throws men on their heads and you wonder how he acquired such brutal techniques.

The other problem with the film is Sharlto Copley’s questionable villain.

His accent is odd, motivation wonky and scenes were cut down (thank you three-hour cut). He is not a threat and pales in comparison to Ji-Tae Yu who owned the screen as the twisted baddie of the original. His character was sleek, suave, petty and believably diabolical. A good hero needs a good villain and Lee Woo-jin was a great bad guy. Copley is nothing but facial hair, scars and a weak back story. The bad guy barely registers and that is terrible thing when the movie is all about a man getting revenge.

The Oldboy remake fought a losing battle. I’m sure the three-hour cut is better but I think Spike Lee should have focused more on character and plot instead of making things bigger and better. More can sometimes be less and that is evident in the Oldboy remake.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2014 11:45 pm

    Granted, I loved the original til death do me part. However, I have to give this remake the benefit of the doubt for not being nearly as shitty as I expected it to be. Still doesn’t excuse it for being dull at times, but does make it a little bit of a better watch than what we’re so used to seeing with American-made remakes of foreign classics. Unnecessary ones, at that. Good review.


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