Park Chan-Wook created a revenge masterpiece when he released Oldboy back in 2003. A tale of a business man, kidnapped and imprisoned in a motel room-looking jail cell for an insane amount of time, only to be released back into the world with no explanation, left to figure out who was behind it and why. When I heard that Spike Lee was remaking this movie the first thing I asked was “why?”. Why would anyone want to touch this movie? It’s perfect the way it is and Hollywood was just going to ruin everything about it that made it awesome. However, as much as I’m not a huge fan of Spike Lee, and his work, he seemed like a decent choice to attempt to direct what was sure to be subpar compared to the original.
The film was released on November 27th, 2013 without warning, and came and went like the wind. Only showing up in a few theaters across the country, the movie only ended up making $4 million dollars in it’s entire theatrical run and currently has a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to the original’s 80%. This movie was doomed from the start, and I’m actually really surprised it ever made it past the discussion phase. But flash forward to this week and I was able to secure a pre-release copy of the blu-ray so that I could see for myself just how bad it is, and it is bad, but not for the reasons I was expecting.
Before seeing the movie I was very curious as to how it was going to play out for US audiences. The twisted nature of the “why” question throughout the movie comes to an even more twisted conclusion in the original, which there was no way they would be able to use in a hollywood produced movie… I was wrong. The essential plot, from beginning to end, is the exact same as the original; it’s the little things throughout that change the movie, but in the grand scheme of things, if you saw the original, you know the remake. I really don’t want to give away the ending even though the original is 10 years old now, but I was definitely surprised that the original twist was the same. However, that being said, they did change the very last few scenes of the flick in the remake, which do change things a bit. And that wasn’t the only thing they changed throughout…
When most people think of Oldboy the first thing that comes to mind is the fucked up ending, the second thing that comes to mind is the hammer fight scene, and for good reason. The hammer fight scene in the original, which you can see here, is an intense, single-shot (no cuts), brawl between the main character and what seems like an endless barrage of henchmen. It takes place in the confines of a super tight hallway which just amplifies the tension. Flash forward to the remake and we’re given an equally bloody hammer scene, but without the sense of dread due to space constraints. However, I thought the scene was an excellent portrayal of the one-take, no-cut scene from the original. I’ve actually gone and read a handful of other reviews about the remake this morning and everyone is complaining how this scene was broken into multiple cuts, but compared the original fight, it’s the same amount of cuts. The only difference is where the cuts are in the remake. In the original the first cut comes at the very end of the fight when Dae-su Oh is standing with his back to the hallway where the henchmen are laying on the ground bloody from the fight, the knife stuck in his back and a smile on his face. The scene cuts again when the elevator opens revealing about 10 more guys ready to fight, cut again and we see the elevator open from another floor to reveal Dae-su Oh surrounded by a bunch of dead guys that fall out. So that’s 3 cuts throughout the whole scene. Now let’s look at the remake’s version of the same fight. It’s not in a hallway, but more like levels of a parking garage, which doesn’t give that same sense of confined space, it’s also very bright. The fight happens for almost a full 2 minutes before there is a single cut. Yes, the camera angle changes, and there is character movement between levels of the “garage”, but the camera never cuts during all of that, and the fight continues. The original has it’s first cut around the 2:30 minute mark, so it’s slightly longer, but not by much. In the remake the camera cuts as Joe Doucett (Brolin) gets stabbed in the back with the knife, from there he stumbles down stairs to the elevator, which opens revealing a bunch of guys, then we cut to the elevator opening to a bunch of dead dudes, so it’s the same amount of cuts as the original, the only difference being where the cuts are and the moment the knife is jammed into the main character’s back. Dae-su Oh gets stabbed pretty close to the beginning of the fight and beats the shit out of the guys with the knife in him whereas Joe gets stabbed at the very end. But to say that Spike Lee didn’t do this fight scene in one take seems a little off to me unless I saw something different than what was shown in theaters.
The fight scene wasn’t the only thing Spike Lee changed. There was a lot more backstory-buildup in the beginning showing how shitty of a person Joe was before getting kidnapped. In the original it basically only shows a drunk Dae-su Oh wandering around looking for a gift for his daughter right before he’s kidnapped. We don’t see his work life and him hitting on a clients wife in the original. And like I said, the very very last few couple scenes were changed from the original which give the ending a bit of a different feel to it. It definitely changes how you leave the movie feeling about the character, that’s for sure.
So overall, I would just stick with the original as the changes that Spike Lee made don’t add a whole lot to the movie, so why watch a remake when you can watch the original? I don’t however agree with all of the hate towards the flick. It’s essentially the same story and all of the main aspects of the original are there to some degree. I do agree with other reviews that say Sharlto Copley as the villain was a weird choice, and not very intimidating and just kind of weird in the role. Not that he’s a bad actor, but the way it was played out just didn’t seem as menacing and twisted as the original villain. I did like Elizabeth Olsen as the female character in the flick, I thought she did a good job and I didn’t mind the changes they made to her character in terms of her occupation and thing like that. I think, honestly, my only complaint about this is the changes at the very beginning with the main character’s backstory. Had none of that bullshit been in the movie, I probably would have actually given this a solid review, but since those were really the major changes that Spike Lee made to the flick, there was still no reason to remake it as, story-wise, it’s the same as the original… It’s kind of like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, if you’re only going to add a scene of Vince Vaughn jerking off in the shower, why bother remaking the movie at all… That’s how I felt about Spike Lee’s Oldboy. Check it out if you want, but don’t expect anything new.