Movie Title: Oldboy
Date Released: November 27th, 2013
Date Seen: November 29th, 2013
Seen with: Anna, Madison
For the review of the Korean 2003 adaptation, click here.
Part 1 – Spoiler Free Quickie Review
As a fan of the original Chan-wook Park adaptation of the Oldboy manga, I went into this not with great expectations. Usually American remakes of foreign films are disappointing, mostly because there are thinks that American audiences just can’t handle or Hollywood needs to “dumb things down” or make them obvious. That’s what this movie does, left and right: dumbs it down, makes the majority of the plot obvious, and loses a lot of feeling and emotion the original movie had. It’s like Spike Lee just decided to take the iconic scenes or easy recognizable scenes (umbrella, waking up in the box, torture, hallway, and a naked swim) from the Korean film, remake them with his own flair, and otherwise do his own thing. It’s a watered down version of an amazing movie that just leaves you disappointed.
The majority of the problem with this movie is that it is a pure gore/beat ’em up film. There is violence, a lot of it, but the type that you know is coming and is so overdone that you just laugh. Yes, the violence in the original was overblown as well at times, but there was a lot left up to the imagination in that version. The well known hallway scene in this version is laughable. They took an iconic scene, somehow managed to tone it down, make it more bloody, and yet less violent overall. It was a boring scene. The men fought like video game characters – as in only one would attack at a time. The Chan-wook Park version was amazing, with a (more) realistic fight of everyone attacking him at the same time, making you actually feel like Oh Dae-su is in danger. Also around this time is another well known scene, that involves some pretty heavy torture. In the Korean version, I can’t watch this scene because it makes me so grossed out. In this version, even though we actually see more of what is happening, it was again so ridiculous and overdone that I watched it.
On a related note, a lot of the acting is ridiculous as well. Were you wondering about Samuel L. Jackson? Yes, he does in fact say mother fucker. That’s pretty much all he does that I cared about. In the above mentioned torture scene he does a pretty poor job, which I find surprising. I expected him to be better. The villain, Adrian (Sharlto Copley), is laughable. He is so over the top, has a ridiculous accent (it is not Copley’s real accent, which is South African), and is a stupid character. How he manages to control a company is hard to believe. Woo-jin Lee (the original version of the character) had this real Hannibal Lecktor feeling about him – he was charming, intelligent, good looking, and someone you could see yourself wanting to be around. Adrian’s appearance screams “oh hey I’m a villain with a ridiculous plan” and so you can’t take him seriously. He also has a cartoon cast of characters around him that make him even more laughable. He comes off as just a creepy guy who is weak and needs all these people to protect him. A number of characters have completely different images (characterization wise) in this version than in the Korean film, that completely change the movie. Hint hint: the main character, but that’s not for this part of the review.
I was going to try to not compare this to the original so much but I just can’t help it. The Korean version is just such a great film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, grossed out while managing not to be too visually gory, and shocked at the ending. This version was more visually gory and yet less tense, boring, and predictable. The ending wasn’t even all too shocking – and they left it watered down.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering – wow, you completely hated this movie! Were there things you liked? Yes, a few. I liked that we got to see more of Joe figuring out he is locked up and adapting to the situation. I also liked that we got to see them get the evidence for framing him for the ex-wifes murder. I thought that the dumpling tasting scene was well done, and I liked how they adapted for the change of times with the bike/car chase instead of person/bike chase. Also with the addition of so much new technology seeing Joe try to figure out what he was doing with the internet, cell phone, looking for a pay phone, etc. I have mixed feelings about the addition of the unsolved mysteries type show, but I’ll discuss that more below.
Part 2 – In Depth Spoiler Ridden Review/Synopsis
A lot of the lovely nuances of the Korean version were lost in this movie. There were some details that they threw in, seemingly to please fans of the Korean film, but I rather saw it as a slap to the face. One simple example is the lady selling the rubber duckies – wearing the angel wings. A little nod towards the original that instead just made me wish I was watching the Korean film. There was also the little nod towards the presents that the villain sends, with Chucky’s tongue in the box – but it had no where near the impact of that bright purple beautifully wrapped box we see a number of times in the Korean film. Those are some of my favorite parts – of how something so beautiful can be so terrifying – like the present, or even Woo-jin, the villain, in the Korean version.
I also hated how much they changed the characters. Oh Dae-su was a drunk, yes, but he was still excited to go see his daughter for her birthday, had already bought her a present, etc. He wasn’t a dick when he was a young boy to Lee’s sister, he was just kind of annoying. He didn’t tell EVERYONE about what he saw, he only told Joo-Hwan who then spread the rumor. Joe on the other hand is a super dick, doesn’t really care about his ex wife nor his kid, and he was a super super dick to Adrian’s sister. The only similarity the two had was the fact that they were both drunks. Then there’s the villain. I mentioned above that Adrian is weak, creepy looking, and a whiny guy. I also mentioned that the Korean counterpart, Woo-jin Lee, is a bad-ass. Yes, he has ONE bodyguard who is always with him, but you can tell that he doesn’t really need him, since he will always be one step ahead of you.
I mentioned the unsolved mysteries type show above which I would like to mention down here as well. Here are my thoughts on it – I liked the idea that he got to see some of his daughter and had an idea to cling to while he was there. It worked well with how they showed him deciding to better himself and make himself get out. But it also made him weaker and stupider. He was so obsessed with finding his daughter that he had an easy thing that could be used to torture him with. In the Korean version, once Oh Dae Su learns that his daughter has been adopted, moved away, and is with a loving family, he ends that search – knowing that she is happy is enough for him and now back to the revenge. It doesn’t mean he loves his daughter any less, he just knows that staying with that family is what is HER life and what works best for HER. Yes, that’s not really his daughter but in Oh Dae Su / Joe’s mind it is and that’s what matters. In the Korean version the mission is solely revenge – which being part of the Vengance Trilogy, works. It also makes it 100x more surprising when the end “twist” that the woman he has been sleeping with is his actual daughter, because you’ve really sort of forgotten about her. In the American version it focuses so much more on the daughter that it is pretty obviously a lie, and thus you can guess what is going on.
The last thing that I should mention is the obvious: the “twist” changes. First off is what I consider the twist. I was surprised that this version did leave in the incest. They watered it down quite a bit, and made it a little more tolerable for American audiences (which again, saddens me). They made it seem like Adrian was such a weak victim, raped by his father but basically brainwashed to think that it was ok and they had a loving relationship. So they made it more about a broken child. The Korean version is more about the love between Woo-jin and his sister and how Oh Dae-su destroyed that by witnessing their tender relationship and planting the seed that resulted in her untimely death. But anyway – none of this is what I consider the twist. I consider the “twist” to be the fact that Oh Dae-su chooses to FORGET this (using the hypnotist) and continue his relationship with his daughter. We don’t get the tongue cutting out scene, nor this twist in the American version. So as I said many times, simply a watered down version of what was an amazing story.
An all around disappointing remake of a fantastic Korean film. Skip this one and do yourself a favor and watch Chan-wook Park’s original version, it is a MUCH better story.