How Not To: 2013 Oldboy

Remakes are common in America, it’s basically what we do the best at this point. We find something that was either a financial or critical success and wrap it around to make it somehow work for big bucks. One of those remakes that occurred recently is, arguably, the most well known Korean film in Oldboy. It is over a decade old yet Chan-Wook Park’s action/thriller has still influenced many filmmakers and have fascinated filmgoers since it move across the seas. So it does make sense that we would try to make it in our own image.

I promise you though: The 2013 Oldboy will never hold a candle to the 2003 original. First off you have the choice in director with Spike Lee. Now Spike Lee is a very good filmmaker and he will be remembered for giving us some of the best films about race relations. Remember that phrase: race relations. Why is a director who focuses most on that aspect in his stories, or in the very least complicated stories focusing on the endearing spirit of humanity, is working on an action remake? That combination doesn’t seem to work even on paper let alone what the final product was.

In general though Spike Lee seems to be going for a ‘cartoon’ here rather than anything deep. Yes, the original has some outlandish moments but it’s core is a very troubling and psychological thriller. Here, Lee is going for broke on the characters and moments to be outrageous as possible. When I see Josh Brolin kicking ass or acting like Superman it doesn’t hold as much weight as Min-Sik Choi going at with a hammer in the original. I don’t think Brolin does a terrible job here overall and he handles the action scenes as best as he could. But an unbelievable story somehow becomes more so because of this casting.

Then there is the biggest sacrilege of them all: The Corridor Fight Scene. If you don’t know reading this the original Oldboy is remembered for a memorable fight scene where the lead actor takes on a group of thugs with only a hammer. The catch is that Chan-Wook Park decided to stage and film the fight in one continuous take and never cut. We’ve seen some impressive fight scenes in film after 2003 but this moment still holds up as one of the best fight sequences in film history. I’m just going to show you how Spike Lee decided to portray this moment in his own way. Tell me if you see the difference:

2003 Original


2013 Remake


Spike Lee sorta goes for a one take scene but it just…well it just doesn’t work. The terrible heavy metal riff, the annoying thugs grunting (somehow not annoying in the original but just as prevalent) and Josh Brolin looking like a complete cartoon. It looks like a video game cutscene for what it’s worth and that’s not what the original is about at all. Park went for the most realistic angle, or as realistic as one can manage, with a fight like this. Eventually everyone tires out cause even with adrenaline you are going to tire yourself out quickly. Here it looks like Brolin could get stabbed multiple times and still destroy a room full of redshirts.

Look, remakes are going to happen. It’s 2016 and with the onslaught of comic book films this is basically all we have left to offer with American cinema. It just would be nice, for a change, that a transfer to the states would result in something remotely watchable. Who knows if an Oldboy remake would have worked in general. But maybe FilmDistrict should’ve went for a more believable cast and crew before trying to put this into American’s eyeballs.


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