It’s been a little over a day since I saw both versions of Oldboy — one by Spike Lee and one by Park Chan-wook — back to back. The more I reflect on the Spike Lee version, the worse and worse it gets in my head. So I’ll just barf out the major wrongs about this sad re-make and be done with it.
This write-up will be chock full of spoilers which will save you a lot of time and money. I’m also assuming that my readers have seen the original, Korean version of Oldboy. And if you’re keeping track at home, both versions (American and Korean) are based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi.
Right from the get go, I knew the American version of the film was dumbed down and playing it safe. The movie title screen had 20 tick marks instead of 15. In the original movie, Oh Dae-su had been jailed for 15 years (it was ten years in the manga), but Spike Lee’s Joe Doucett was imprisoned for 20 years. Apparently, it was safer to say that Doucett’s daughter was 23 years old, rather than 18. However, Lee’s film also revealed that the villain’s father was having sex with his own 16-year old daughter (not the villain having sex with his sister as in Park Chan-wook’s film). Perhaps this saved us from seeing Joe Doucett as incestuous AND a pedophile compared to just being incestuous.
Another red flag was that there was lengthy setup of our “hero” being an asshole. He calls his wife a bitch and tells her that their 3-year old daughter wouldn’t notice if he’s not there for her birthday because she’s so young. Park Chan-wook was brilliant in keeping the audience and the hero in the dark about the reason for his imprisonment! Instead the viewer developed no pity for Lee’s main character.
One large plot difference with Lee’s version is the complete absence of the hypnotist and the hypnotic conditioning that, in the original film, explains the movie and leads to a rather brilliant ending. Instead, Lee’s re-write was to manipulate our hero via TV show segments to convince Doucett that his daughter was alive and well. These TV show segments were so unusually well-timed that the viewer knows that it’s fake and a set-up. First major fail.
The second major fail was the casting of Samuel L. Jackson in a role that was not right for him. The role was the “motel prison captor” who, in Park’s film, gets his hand chopped off; remember him? Samuel L. Jackson as a whiney hired-hand begging not to be tortured was just boring and under utilized his talents. The torture scene itself was a tween version of torture porn: pouring salt on open wounds while SLJ squeals. Boring.
A third major fail was deconstructing the fantastic hallway fight scene into a senseless, story-less jumble. If you get hit by a 2×4 plank of wood, doesn’t it hurt? Apparently not for Doucett, who just ignores it and keeps fighting. But when he removes a knife from his back, he squeals and squeals and squeals. I won’t go into the other levels of failure and why it didn’t work, but it was pretty bad in conveying any sort of story within the fighting like Park’s fight scene achieved.
The fourth major fail was in the reveal of the incest. Though I will give props to Josh Brolin for his work as an actor during the reveal. But then, the most laughable thing happens: the villain shoots himself on the spot. Yes… he just takes himself out of the picture. Just. Like. That. In Park’s Oldboy, this is the point where Dae-su begs his heart out. By removing the begging, Lee was able to completely skip over the epic tongue cutting because, you know, an American audience couldn’t handle that. But Americans love torture porn, though. What the what!?
The fifth major fail and second plot difference is the ending. It was like Lee put down a soft feather pillow for the audience to land on. As you may remember, Dae-su asks the hypnotist to make him forget all the horrible things that happened and when he is reunited with his daughter, we see this wonderful struggling, mixed emotion from Dae-su. It’s literally heart-wrenching, a little hopeful, and a little painful. You can’t take your eyes off of Choi Min-sik’s performance.
Instead, Lee decided that everyone should live happily ever after; therefore, Doucett ends up with a fortune and sends a share of it to help his daughter start her life over, telling her he’ll never see her again. Meanwhile, he puts himself back in the motel jail and has hidden camera feed of his daughter in the room. Yes, you heard me right: a dad that spies on his daughter from a small jail. I have no idea how that ending was suppose to make sense.
The minor fails include:
- There is NO octopus eating scene, though one appears as an homage…
- The villain’s bodyguard was a female for no other reason than to have a mute Asian female “Temptress” (see Julie’s post on Jeff Yang’s Marvels and Monsters exhibit) who at one point is scantily clad for the asexual villain.
- There’s not an apparent explanation for how our hero meets his daughter in the first place.
- There was no “switch to turn my heart off'” gadget.
So there you have it! This is all you need to know about Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake. I just saved you a few bucks.