Sunday, March 16, 2014

(Back 2 Back) OLDBOY: Park Chan-wook VS. Spike Lee

Back 2 Back is my comparison review of an original film and its remake/s. 

In this post, I will be reviewing Park Chan-wook's Oldboy (2003), and Spike Lee's 2013 version.

 Loosely based on the Japanese manga, Old Boy, written by Nobuaki Minegishi & Garon Tsuchiya
      (2003) Directed by:  Park Chan-wook                                     (2013)  Directed by:  Spike Lee
       Starring: Choi Min-Sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung                         Starring: Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, Elizabeth Olsen
       Running Time:  120 mins                                                           
Running Time:  104 mins                                                                      Budget:  $3 million                                                                      Budget:  $30 million
       Box Office:  almost $15 million                                                Box Office:  almost $5 million

Let me just say this first: NO I don't care that a remake of Oldboy has been done. I have stopped hating on remakes for awhile now. To those who keep on saying that it's a disgrace to the original blah blah (and I'm speaking generally here), that the original should never ever ever have been re-made etc. etc., all I can say is this: remakes, however unnecessary, are inevitable & to be expected. There will always be other attempts to re-create or surpass what we deem as an already great work of art. Why? Because humans are perfectionists.. or we just love to rip off stuff (and by we, I mean Hollywood). And while the remakes are usually sub-par & disappointing, to me, that's part of the fun. It only makes the original shine brighter, and those who haven't even heard of it in the first place might be curious enough to want to watch it - and isn't that a good thing? Lastly, a bad remake would never be a disgrace to the original because they are two separate films, made by different directors, with different casts - the only one disgraced or put in a bad light is the one who made the remake. So guys, chill!

Now let's talk about the movies.

I'll go straight to the point. There's no contest here, the 2003 version is a masterpiece, and obviously the superior film between the two. I'm pretty sure anyone who have seen both movies will agree and won't need any convincing. 

But just humor me, here are the reasons why the South Korean film is great, while the Hollywood remake is just average at best.

Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-Su) vs. Josh Brolin (Joe Doucett) 
Choi Min-sik (pic above)
Josh Brolin (below)

Oh Dae-Su is charming & likeable while Joe Doucett is basically a jerk. Lee probably intended Doucett to have a slightly different characterization, but for me, that has affected the mood of the film. I can easily sympathize with Oh Dae-Su, connect to him in a more intimate manner, and understand why he does what he does - all the more because he was crazy and goofy.  Joe Doucett, from the get-go has had no emotional ties with his family or friends. It's hard to feel for him. He may look cooler than Oh Dae-Su, but he lacks "heart" which is a necessary ingredient in here, considering it's a vengeance movie. Choi Min-sik (who resembles Jackie Chan, but that's totally irrelevant), was very human in his lack of humanity. You can see his complexities as a character. He was great. Josh Brolin probably did the best he can do, but I don't know whose fault it is, but something in his character was lacking... and felt forced. I felt that Min-sik fully embraced Oh Dae-su, while Brolin was just acting. That's the big difference. Watch the confrontation/revelation scene of both films and you'll see what I mean. So yes, Choi Min-Sik wins the hammer fight. Oh, bonus points for that horrifying octopus scene. O_O If Brolin ate a live octopus too, I would have been impressed.

So I've read that this is a real octopus and that just 
breaks my heart. I know it's considered a delicacy in 
some parts of Asia, but still, c'mon...
poor octopus...  *Cannibal Holocaust flashback*

Yoo Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin) vs. Sharlto Copley (Adrian Pryce)

Yoo Ji-tae
Again, there's no contest. I love Yoo Ji-tae's portrayal as the villainous Lee Woo-jin. He's mysterious, he's charming, and he's human - however twisted his logic is. His motivation for revenge was handled magnificently, properly-developed, and thus the revelation has an impact. “Be it a stone or a grain of sand, in water they both sink.” That's his principle & what he believes in. How absolutely childish, and yet believable. We all know that us human beings can harbor anger & hatred for years (however big or small the sin is), eating away our humanity and happiness. Making us bitter which hinders us from moving forward. And you know what? With that thinking, and the already twisted situation that triggered all these events,I was convinced of Woo-jin's. 

Sharlto Copley
Sharlto Copley as Adrian Pryce on the other hand is like a poorly-drawn caricature. The first time I've heard his voice (phone call) I was like "What the hell?!!", it's like a joke that isn't funny. His accent doesn't make him sinister... just weird. And his gay vibes (no he's not happy) is worthy of a headdesk. His portrayal & his character is painted with pure melodrama, whereas Lee Woo-jin was lighthearted at the same time tragic. Ji-tae's chemistry with Min-sik was felt. Copley & Brolin, on the other hand, was bland. Criminal Minds have had better protagonist-antagonist interaction. This felt limp. It didn't feel threatening. 

To put it simply, Chan-wook's villain was sophisticated while Lee's was a cliched caricature of a villain.

Kang Hye-jung (Mi-do) vs. Elizabeth Olsen (Marie Sebastian)
I was pleasantly surprised that Elizabeth Olsen was good in this role. She has depth as an actress, but unfortunately, the screenplay didn't give Olsen's character much to play with. Again, it all comes down to the screenplay/director's subpar execution - because everything feels forced or unnatural. 
Kang Hye-jung as Mi-do delivered both innocence and cuteness in her portrayal which gives the necessary "feels" and impact the movie needs as the story unfolds. Mi-do's chemistry with Oh Dae-su was both awkward and bonded - just perfect.

To sum it up, Park Chan-wook's original Oldboy is the better film, without any doubt. Technically speaking, it's a work of art. His attention to the littlest details, in terms of camera works & even the colors are such a delight to see.
His humor, which neutralizes the depressing & violent content of the story, is much needed and much appreciated. The story slowly builds up, slowly unfolds - keeping the audience puzzled and intrigued - drawing them in, feeling the characters' emotions, even sympathizing with them. Spike Lee's version is severely lacking in this department. Maybe it's the studio's fault for chopping down the movie to make it shorter (140 mins to 104 mins), and ultimately sacrificing the development and pacing of the film. It's really a shame. While Chan-wook's transports you to Oh Dae-su's world, letting you believe the story, Lee's doesn't go beyond just being a Hollywood movie. You DON'T forget you're watching a film, with movie characters and a script. You don't feel them, in short. Technically-speaking, it was comparable (but never surpassing) to Chan-wook's masterpiece, and the plot pretty much stayed close to the South Korean version (with a few changes here and there) - but that's it. There's no question as to which is the better film. And yes, this remake is completely unnecessary. But it does serve a good purpose - that is to remind us what a masterpiece Chan-wook's film is. And for that, I sincerely thank Spike Lee.

SPOILERS (If you haven't watched these movies, please don't read this as it will spoil the whole plot for you): 
Lee changing the incest angle from brother-sister to father-daughter/son made his film weaker. In the original, there was a certain sweetness to Woo-jin & Ah Soo's relationship - twisted yes, but also innocent & that there's a natural link between them. They love each other. In Lee's version, the father pretty much corrupted Pryce and his sister. They were abused, and they loved it. That, to me, is reprehensible. It's foul, and it's typical of Hollywood to tarnish something that's already perfect, and turn it into another faceless, typical, & forgettable movie.

My Rating:

Park Chan-Wook's:  4.5/5 
Spike Lee's:  I tried to be as objective as possible. If I'm going to rate this as a film, it really isn't that bad (but Adrian Pryce is, imo). It's still intriguing, and Brolin & Olsen gave decent performances. So it's a 3/5 for me. But as a remake, it's probably a 2/5 or 2.5. It's just the same plot, without the impact. I ask myself, if I watched this first, will my views change? I really don't think it won't. I would still think that Copley's character was horrible, and that there was really no build up or development. It felt rushed and forced. Now I really want to see the director's cut.

YOUR POINT OF VIEW: Which characters do you like better?

Let me know what you think, LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, let's talk!  
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  1. I loved the optimism you used to describe the positive truths of remakes, that was brilliant!!! You wrote a most fine Review here, enjoyed it !!! :)

    1. thank you for reading! I always try to be objective and fair to every movies I review, I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

  2. Excellent review, and I concur 100%. Park Chan-Wook's 2003 original Oldboy, or "Oldeuboi," is the best revenge movie I have ever seen. While hard to watch at times, it ranks in my top 20 films of all time, and I seen many, many films. I wanted to say that if someone has not seen the original, don't watch it dubbed. See it in its full original form and read the subtitles. It has so much more meaning that way. I truly want to watch them back-to-back now. Thank you for this amazing and thorough review!

    1. It's also one of my favorites! I love the camera works, and also the music. I love it. And I agree with you, I don't like watching dubbed versions. It feels so awkward. I read somewhere, someone hating the film so much because he said that the voices (dubbed) sound so silly, and Mi-do's voice sounded like porn anime. I mean hello, why not watch the subbed version? *facepalm*

      Thank you for reading!



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