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Should You See the 'Oldboy' Remake?

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo

Should Josh Brolin have laid down the hammer on this American remake?

The Sign-Off
According to a recent interview with Lee on The Verge, the only reason Brolin participated was that Park gave his blessing to the re-make.

No Subtitles
And no unfamiliar Asian culture crap to distract the idiot masses from the plot at hand. Yeehaw!

Samuel L. Jackson in a Mohawk and a Leather Kilt
’Nuff said.


The Style
One of the thrills of Oldboy was its striking visual appeal. Park and his art department carefully curated sets and costumes—just look at all that funky wallpaper, the avant-garde clothing, the dim lighting. The result is as if Wes Anderson art- directed a David Fincher film. In comparison, the remake’s art department is helmed by a team best known for The Town, which went hard for realism over style.

The Director
While Spike Lee has some fancy camera tricks up his sleeves, his more recent efforts at surrealism and dark humor—both hallmarks of the original Oldboy—have been panned. In some ways, what made the original’s gruesomeness in plot and action palatable was its over-the-top, intriguingly odd packaging. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the hyperstylization is almost soothing, as if to say, “it’s OK. This is only a story.” Lee’s earnestness, by contrast, is all about highlighting the real, albeit with his auteur eye. And trust me, this is one story that you don’t want to believe could happen in reality.

The Octopus Scene
Many fans of the original might go to the remake just to see how the infamous live octopus scene is reinterpreted in an American setting. In fact, since Olsen’s character is now a doctor, not a sushi chef, I wonder if it will even make it in at all, and if it did, what would be the relevance? In the original, the scene helped spark a budding relationship between Dae-su and the chef, simultaneously adding an intriguing layer to the mystery (why would any woman be attracted to someone who just ate that?)

The Plot
More shocking than the violence, which seems almost quaint now compared to the films Oldboy inspired, is its fucked-up ending. It’s a story that need only exist in this world once, and it’s unnerving that Hollywood found the twist ending so titillating that it needed to be remade in a more familiar context, sans subtitles and transplanted to American soil, just to maximize the story’s reach. It’s sort of like remaking The Crying Game because people couldn’t understand the actors’ British and Irish accents.

In the end, I’m wary that all the things I loved about the original will be “reinterpreted” by Lee into a dour, uberviolent and exceedingly icky version, despite some potentially stellar performances, a smarter female lead and Samuel L. Jackson in a mohawk. Even the advertising for the remake shows signs of the kind of heavy-handed foreshadowing—“Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free.”—that studios insist upon for American multiplex audiences, but which was so refreshingly absent from the original. I fear Lee’s joint might end up like Dae-su in Park’s cult classic, stripped of wonder and unable to say anything new.


Dir. Spike Lee; writ. Mark Prostosevich (based on a manga novel by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi); feat. Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson (R)
Opens Nov 27 at Palladium and Silverado 16

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