I recently had the pleasure of watching the 2003 Korean action film “Oldboy,” which is so much more than it seems it would be. A beautiful and deliberate combination of music, cinematography, acting and directing made it intriguing and mind-blowing. Though I’m not usually that interested in fight scenes as they usually do not hold my attention, this film used unique camera angles, lighting and fight choreography to keep me interested the entire way through. The plot was twisted enough to be entertaining, but not so complicated that I felt lost. It was commercial enough to reach a wide audience, but had enough of an auteur’s hand to make it art. Chan-wook Park’s film was near perfect, which is why I was surprised that it is being remade.
Set to come out in October 2013, the new “Oldboy” is directed by Spike Lee and stars Josh Brolin and Samuel L. Jackson. The movie is already making “Oldboy” fans nervous, especially since the first movie was so well made and created such dedicated fans. To put the film in the hands of someone other than Park and give the characters new faces is something almost unimaginable, but this is the way it goes for most remakes.
The shock of a remake simply increases based on how iconic and loved the original was. For example, when “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory” was remade into “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the latter film got a lot of negative response by people who hadn’t even seen it, but were so attached to the original that they couldn’t bear to see their beloved story in a new light. Remaking a film gives the new filmmakers an opportunity to tell the story the way they see it, and this can mean a lot to a filmmaker. However, they always have to be ready for audience backlash.
The example above was mostly in-house, as both the remake and the original were products of the U.S. industry (both, surprisingly, affiliated with Warner Bros.). “Oldboy” is different in that it is continuing a long tradition of Hollywood taking films from non-Western parts of the world and making them their own. Examples of this include “The Departed” and “The Grudge,” both produced by Roy Lee, who is also producing “Oldboy.”
Lee says that though the twists are what make the movie, there are going to be enough changes to the story that fans of the original will still be surprised. He also says that they will be replicating and enhancing iconic sequences, such as when Oh Dae-su (the Korean protagonist) eats a live squid. One of the most iconic scenes is a fight scene shot in one take. The whole scene takes place in a small corridor in a medium/ long shot and comes across unique, visually impressive and captivating. Lee says that this scene is going to be reshot, but with a slightly different technique that will be different than any fight scene before. Will it?
The only place where I found “Oldboy” fell short was the plot. The character motivations were clear, but the extremes to which they went at their goals did not make sense. However, in the atmosphere of the film, I was able to withhold my apprehensions and accept it. For the remake, I fear that taking away the familiar stylistic images will focus too much on the plot and the action and render this nothing more than another action film. Another promise that is questionable is that Lee states the end will be different and potentially darker. For anyone who has seen “Oldboy,” they know there are very few ways in whièch this film could grow darker, and with the ending so perfect the way it is, it becomes difficult to see the value in changing it.
Overall, the remake might make it, and will probably be successful at least financially. Where the greater part of the general public probably hasn’t seen the original “Oldboy,” they might not even know what it is based on and judge the new film solely on itself. It may even work to the older film’s favor, getting more people interested in where the story came from. At the end of the day, though, Joe Doucette (the name of the new protagonist) does not mean “getting through one day at a time” as Oh Dae-su does, and simply in that we can see how so many important nuances and details will be lost in this remake of a truly spectacular film.