Among Asian cinema connoisseurs, Oldboy easily stands as one of the most beloved movies to grace the silver screen. Originally released in 2003 from Korean director Chan-Wook Park, few films have managed to uphold the grim desperation of a man who spends 15 years in captivity, kidnapped, with no hint of any underlying motive.
While trapped, he is made aware of his wife’s murder and his status as a primary suspect. And so, he meticulously attempts to dig out of his cell — his main driving force being revenge.
He is mysteriously released and receives a taunting phone call by his captor, which sets forth the action and the main character’s bloody quest for revenge.
What follows is a non-stop thriller filled with paranoia, conspiracy, torture, and violence that only a man who has nothing left to lose can display. But despite the grim tones, the movie also features a love story with a shocking twist that serves as the proverbial cherry on top of a masterfully made sundae.
Like Pulse and Godzilla before it, Oldboy is the latest of several Asian films to have received an American remake. So, how does the Western take on this classic compare to the original?
Like most of these Hollywoodized versions, the adaptations seek to draw in a new audience by decentralizing some cultural aspects.
Oldboy‘s remake, much like The Ring, for example, homogenizes much of what made the movie stand out in the first place. Plot twists are exhaustively explained — which is like explaining the punch line to a joke in an attempt to make it funnier — and many taboo topics are flat out discarded and edited out.
Furthermore, much of the movie’s violence is toned down. Some may argue that this is a positive factor, but considering the savage nature of the movie and the importance of the protagonist’s vengefulness, this disregard of the main character’s primary driving force waters down the movie to unbelievably dull levels.
The desperation and much of what gave the original movie its soul seems muddled and almost impossible to discern from yet another action thriller.
In turn, the adapted movie becomes nothing more than a two-hour snoozefest that attempts to explain and justify itself to a Western audience with a shameful lack of confidence.
Usually, these faults can be blamed on the director; the Hollywood version of Oldboy, however, boasts none other than Spike Lee at the helm — a cinema industry veteran, with several strong films under his belt such as Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and The 25th Hour.
There are few excuses, therefore, for this flat out bastardization of a cult classic.
The movie received an abysmal score of 43 per cent on rottentomatoes.com, and is considered a box office bomb, as well as one of the weakest Thanksgiving openings in movie history.
However, Oldboy — the original South Korean version—is definitely worth seeing.