For my very first post, I’m going to review two versions of the same story. We’re going to be taking a peek at OLD BOY.
The original Old Boy is a 2003 South Korean mystery thriller. It is actually the second movie of a trilogy of films by Director Park Chan-wook. It was a critical success , and we all know what critical foreign success means. Yes, thats right.. the inevitable american remake. This 2013 film is given to us by the courtesy of permanent NY Knicks tear collector Spike Lee.
The general story involves a man, who is kidnapped and impressed for 15+ years. This prison is designed like a hotel room, there are no windows.. just a rotating painting of scenery to reflect night and day. He is given no explaination as to why he is imprisoned. All he has to keep himself occupied is a TV and paper in which to write. Through a TV report he learns that he has been framed for the murder of his wife, and his daughter is now an orphan. He spends much of the time in confinement planning an escape and preparing himself physically and mentally to get vengeance on his captor. Right before his plan to escape he is suddenly released. He is given the instructions that he has a few days to figure out two questions from his captor. 1. Who Am I ? 2. Why did I imprison you for 15 years?. If he doesn’t solve the mystery in time, people he cares for will be killed. If he does figure it out, his captor promises to kill himself as a reward.
Some spoilers below, but i wont ruin the big ones.
So the question is? How did the remake stack up to the original? Well, I would have to say, not too well. That response isn’t very cut and dry, Spike Lee honors the source material in alot of ways but it becomes its own movie. I personally really like watching american remakes of popular foreign films. At surface value, its a great means to see what the director perceives Americans audiences will enjoy, or are even ready for. Most foreign films play off the cuff, they aren’t afraid to go off the rails alittle bit. They’ll show you some truly gruesome/hard to take scenes to get the message across. American film goers are alittle tame to this idea. Which is ironic when you think about the “american” perception of violence and power. So did the remake faithfully recreate the original…Nah, but it told the story in a means to appeal to the american audience. In this way, it was pretty damn good.
You have to give Spike Lee credit, it was certainly a daunting task to take this movie on, Old Boy is very well regarded. It is also not old enough for a majority of people to think it needs a new spin put on it.
I’ll take a moment to explore some of the key difference. The first and most apparent is the nature of the story. In the original Korean version, dark doesn’t begin to describe the atmosphere. It is very much an explanation in the depths of insanity. The film goes through many lengths to get you to question just how insane the main protagonist is. His first encounter with a living person after being released, happens to be with a guy who was about to commit suicide by jumping off an office building. He saves him, because he wants to tell the stranger his story, so he does. When he finishes, the stranger wishes to share his tale in return. For a brief moment you get the impression this is gonna be helpful therapy to both of them. Nope.. protagonist gets up and walks away. I’ll give you 3 guesses to what happens next… but your only gonna need one. There are also multiple hallucinations, odd human interactions, and he doesn’t talk much, he mostly just talks in his head. The violence is also very gritty. As i mentioned before, he spent alot of time just training his body while in confinement. So he gets in multiple fights, usually out numbered and comes out on top, tho the fights are very ugly. A highlight of the films is this single take fight scene in a hallway, with the protagonsit against alot of what I always assume are newly hired henchmen. Can we take a moment to talk about henchmen in movies? Honestly is their a henchmen hotline? Someone should honestly do a movie about the life of a henchmen. I don’t mean how a henchmen rises through the ranks to become a powerful overlord, just the typical day of a henchmen. Whenever I watch a movie where henchmen get cut down by the bunches, I always think about if it happens to be any particular henchmen’s first day. That’s gotta be near the top of bad first days right? OK.. I digress, back to OldBoy.
In the american version, is much lighter tone. Not by much. Spike Lee does his job well not to make it a complete popcorn version of the original. He knows american audiences enjoy gritty but not desolate. You can immediately see the shift in tone by the portrait on the wall of the hotel room. On the left is what appears on the wall in the American version. I’ll put myself out on this one, I don’t know what the Korean portrait is, it might be more culturally significant than I’m aware of. At face value it just speaks to me of the tone of the movie. If you know differently, please let me know.
If the Korean version was a foray into insanity, the American version goes with the revenge aspect. The protagonist in the american version actually seems more crazy when he goes into confinement than when he gets out. For this reason, alot more time is spent with him in the hotel room. I think people sort of enjoy this aspect, people like to see the transformation happen. Once he gets out, the first thing you’ll notice compared to the original is just how rational he seems. Like I said, in alot of ways, being locked up shaped this dude up. He does have some socially awkward moments, but nothing comparable to the Koreans take on the character. Even during the fight scenes, while Spike Lee tries to keep them grounded, the guy kind of feels like a terminator of sorts. Dont let that be a negative either, the scenes are still a ton of fun to watch. This is probably more about Spike Lee trying to one up Park Chan-wook famous single take fight scene. The job is admirable, Spike Lee does it in a single take as well, but ups the anti by leaving the single hallway corridor, and instead shooting in a multilevel garage.
All in All, the general plot remains the same, and the twist near the end is the same, but they have drastically different endings. They are both good, they give you the ending fit for the tone of the movie spent the time to set.
So which movie is better?
I would have to give the Korean version the nod. Only because its different in alot of ways that keep you glued to the screen. The American version is alittle closer to some standard Hollywood troupes, but I still think its better than most films. If it wasn’t being compared to the original, I think it would have been received alot better. You just have to respect the tone of the original. While the original spends alot of time being dark, it somehow doesn’t take itself too seriously. The main characters behavior is often deranged, violent, and awkward. This someone conveys both a tone of torment, but somehow manages to be comical in alot of ways. You never get this feeling from the American remake. The protagonist is more focus, and mission oriented.
I would suggest you watch both movies if you got the time. What makes them different, is what makes them really fun. and they are the same where it counts. They both got hammers.