Spike Lee's Oldboy is released in cinemas soon. Based on the 2003 South Korean film of the same name, the film is about a man who is kidnapped, and locked up for no apparent reason. Twenty years later (in the case of the remake; fifteen for the original), he is released with no explanation, and so begins his mission to find out who did this to him and why.
Being a fan of the original Park Chan-Wook film, I wasn't exactly jumping for joy when I first heard there was going to be a Hollywood reimagining, or whatever they like to call it. What's wrong with using the word "remake" anyway. Spike Lee likes to call it a "reinterpretation".
Here's the recent red-band trailer for the remake:
When I first heard about it a few years back, I wasn't aware if a director had been attached to the film or not, but I'd also heard that there was talk of going back to the original source material; the Japanese manga, which I understand is quite different to the South Korean film adaptation. This, I thought, could be interesting; it could be something better than just the rehashing of the same scenes and the same ideas of the previous film; a trap that so many remakes seem to fall into, leaving them so disappointing to watch, when they fail to surpass the original.
It then transpired that Will Smith was going to star in the remake. I was really disappointed, as I didn't think he suited the role at all, and wasn't sure if he had the acting chops to pull it off. He is everything I didn't want in a remake of Oldboy. To me, he represents the shiny, mainstream aesthetic of the blockbuster movie, and not the challenging, thought provoking, underground attitude to film-making. I kind of dismissed the film after hearing this, and didn't bother to follow how it was shaping up. I've nothing against Will Smith, and have enjoyed some of his work in the past, but I'm not interested in Will Smith's Oldboy.
Or so I thought...
I then read somewhere that instead of going back to the original manga, they were going to use the Korean film as inspiration. Again, this just made me think that it was going to be substandard. Why does Hollywood insist on sequels or remakes all the time? I know they're playing it safe, and they need to produce films that they know will sell tickets, especially in today's economic climate; risk is not really an option for the film studios any more, but whenever anything like this happens, I always think the same thing; remake the bad movies and make them better than the original, don't remake the classic ones and settle for something average.
There're are plenty of films that have had a good central plot and some interesting ideas going for them, but maybe their execution didn't quite live up to expectation. So why don't these Hollywood executives try and remake these? Or even, dare I say it, do something original? Imagine that...
Here's the trailer for the original Korean film:
Anyone who decides to remake a critically acclaimed film that is loved and revered by its fans, is setting themselves up for a fall. The original Oldboy film won Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Palme d'Or. It has also won numerous other awards, and has generated much discussion among fans; I wonder if this new film will be so greatly received. I'm not saying it won't be, but the people behind the remake are making things very difficult for themselves. The fact that there is such love for the original means that people are going to compare the two, and I would hazard a guess that the preference will probably go to the original. Historically, with other Hollywood remakes of films in a foreign language, I would say that most people seem to prefer the original versions.
According to Spike Lee, the remake's star Josh Brolin paid Park Chan-Wook a visit to ask for his blessing on their production of the film. Apparently he was told "You and Spike make your own film, don’t remake ours."
In the remake's defence, I would say that the cast assembled for the new film does seem quite decent in my opinion, and I think they will do a solid job, coupled with Spike Lee's assured direction, but when a film is already so good, why even try to remake it?
I hope they can do something new with the film; I probably will still go and see it (and I guess that's the main thing in the studio's mind), but judging by the trailer, they doesn't seem to have done anything new or different. I always try to keep an open mind when watching remakes, or any film for that matter, but so far, history seems to suggest that it won't live up to expectations.
The new film has a staggered release from 10 October depending on the country. It's released here in the UK on 6 December, and is being shown in the USA from 27 November.
Image credit: Header and US Poster - Spike Lee's official Kickstarter for "The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint"
Korean Poster - Wikipedia