Oldboy Spike Lee Remake of Chan-wook Park Classic Film a Letdown (Review)

Oldboy Spike Lee Remake of Chan-wook Park Classic Film a Letdown (Review)

In 2003 Chan-wook Park released his second in the “vengeance trilogy” Oldboy to overall positive reviews and it became a cult favorite as well as an almost instant classic film and Spike Lee opted to remake the film in 2013 with an end result that is a letdown to say the least. As the film is due for release on Blu-ray March 4 this year, it seems appropriate to take a look at both films and see why Lee’s vision doesn’t really work and why Park’s satisfies all the parts that the new film cannot reach. Being kind, it can be said that in terms of casting; Lee hit pay dirt. In this respect he matches Park’s cast very well…

The Raid (2011): Insane Indonesian Action Thriller

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I picked up this high-octane insane Indonesian action thriller for the unbelievably low price of 6 pounds stirling (that’s about 9 US dollars) Looking at the DVD art and reading the “preview” of the film on the back of the DVD, it looked and sounded like it could be a sort of distant cousin to the French film The Horde.

It isn’t.  Although the basic premise itself is…a little.

Both films deal with police converging on a criminal  for personal rather than legal reasons; but that is the only similarity that the two films have. It did not mean that I was disappointed with The Raid: Redemption. On the contrary, I loved it.

Written and directed by Gareth Evans and starring Iko UwaisAnanda George, and Ray Sahetapy The Raid is about a 20 man SWAT team who are after a Jakarta gangster kingpin who lives in a high-rise derelict apartment building that is considered impregnable. The team is composed mainly of new recruits with only a few members having any real experience in the field.

The reason that the building’s considered to be impossible to breach is down to the fact that the kingpin has filled it with criminal types and lower-income people who “owe” him for giving them a place to stay.

On the way to the building the SWAT team leader explains that the kingpin, Tama Rihadi (Sahetepy) has two “right-hand” men. One is the extremely dangerous Mad Dog  (Yayan Ruhian) and the other is the incredibly intelligent Andi (Donny Alamsyah). Once the team arrives they split into two groups and begin to take the building, floor by floor, room by room.

Moving up floor by floor.
Moving up floor by floor.

After they reach the sixth floor, Tama finds out that they are in the building. He makes an announcement over the buildings loudspeakers that whoever helps him to repel the intruders will be allowed to live in the building rent free for life. He then tells the apartments occupants to enjoy themselves.

Thus begins a battle of life and death for the beleaguered and outnumbered SWAT team.

The film uses a high-speed mix of gunplay and martial arts to move the action forward. It is incredibly fast paced and the action is relentless.

And relentless is a good way to describe the martial arts fight scenes. Like the 2008 film Chocolate and it’s follow-on film (not really a sequel than another vehicle for the film’s star JeeJa Yanin) the 2009 film Raging Phoenix the choreography for the fights look brilliant. Each sequence must have taken weeks to shoot and the effort shows. The stuntmen must have been black and blue for months after filming had finished.

Each fight scene is complex and they look so real, you start looking for real blood; incredibly impressive and not let down by the film’s gunplay. When the films main protagonist Rama (Uwais) fights his way through wave after wave of bad guys in the building’s hallways, it puts the fight scene out of Chan-wook Park‘s 2003 film Oldboy to shame.

In fact the fight scenes all feature such meticulous choreography that there are no obvious misses or “close-call” shots that show clearly that these battles are faked. Realism is the order of the day and that is what impresses most of all about this film.

Ouch.
Ouch.

Interestingly enough this is the first Indonesian film (that I’ve seen) that started life as a non-Indonesian project. Gareth Evans had to “translate” his English script to Indonesian in order for it to be made. The film ultimately benefited from Sony taking it under it’s entertainment wing in terms of distribution.

It opened with generally favourite, if not rave, reviews and has been accepted very well by audiences and critics alike. Shot on an estimated budget of just over one million dollars, the film looks anything but low-budget. *On a side note, isn’t funny to think that anything under 10 million dollars is considered “low budget?”*

Of course it is even more surprising when you consider that all the weapons used in the film were Airsoft replicas and not functioning firearms. All the shots of the guns action’s:  cycling, muzzle flashes and casings ejecting were added digitally. *Courtesy of IMDb.*  Considering how many “rounds” were expended in this film, I would have thought that would have cost a fortune.

This is a great action thriller and I’m not alone in my opinion. The Raid: Redemption has garnered quite a few awards and the film’s creator has hinted that this is part of a planned trilogy. I cannot wait to see what happens next.

I also have to mention the films score by Mike Shinoda. The soundtrack fit the film’s scenes and themes like a skintight glove. Moving the action and accentuating the constant flow of the story.

All the actors gave a believable  performance with “hats-off” to Iko Uwais as Rama and Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog. Ruhian as the rat-faced inhuman martial arts killing machine was impressive beyond belief. He was like a walking advert for homicidal ADHD (ADD). I can describe his fight scenes with one word. Wow.

Mad Dog. Scarier without the gun.
Mad Dog. Scarier without the gun.

Great film and I’d recommend watching it with subtitles versus the dubbed versions. There appears to be a sound problem with the dubbed version and I’m pretty sure that any dubbing would take away from the films impact anyway.

My final verdict is a full 5 out of 5 stars for insanely fast paced film that kept me glued to the screen for the entire film. Great fight choreography and the final fight scene is worth the price of admission alone.

Rama, getting ready for another wave of attackers.
Rama, getting ready for another wave of attackers.

A keeper.

*Check out  the special features for Lee Hardcastle’s Claycat’s The Raid claymation short. It is Brilliant, gory, fun.*

Oldboy (2003): The First Cut is the Deepest **contains spoilers**

Cover of "Oldboy"

With Oldboy (Oldeuboi) about to get the “Hollywood” re-make treatment I decided it was time to talk about what I thought about the original film. Directed by Chan-wook Park as part two of his ‘Vengeance Trilogy‘ (the first being Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the last being Sympathy for Lady Vengeance).

Oldboy is based on the Japanese manga written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya.  It stars Min-sik Choi (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Quiet Family), Hye-jeong Kang (Three… ExtremesBattle Ground 625) and Ji-tae Yu (Into the MirrorLady Vengeanceas the three main protagonists.

At the beginning of the film  Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is in a police station. He has been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. He is still drunk. In the first few minutes of the film Oh Dae-su is angry, funny, forlorn, indignant and showing off the angel wings he has bought his daughter. We can see that despite his drunken state Oh Dae-Su is the Korean “Every-man” who loves to talk, have fun and loves his family.

After he is released from the police station, he stops to call his wife and tell her he is on his way home. As his wife answers the phone, Oh Dae-Su is rendered unconscious and wakes up in a hotel room. This hotel room will be his home and prison for the next fifteen years.

Oh Dae-Su’s only contact with the outside world is the television in his room. He learns by watching the television that his wife has been murdered (he is the main suspect) and that his daughter has been given to foster parents. At first Oh Dae-Su begs to the unseen person who delivers his meals to him through a slot in the door. He then starts hallucinating and attempts suicide.

He attempts to keep track of time by marking scratches on the wall. He also starts ‘shadow boxing’ and punching his wall to toughen his fists. He starts digging a hole in the wall to escape.

Oh Dae-Su is completely reliant on the television, It is his friend, teacher and lover; at one point he masturbates to the young women he sees on the television. Watching him in his room, we can see that his sanity has been stretched to it’s limits.

Just as Oh Dae-su is about to escape, he is knocked out with gas. He awakens on a roof in a huge steamer trunk. He has been given a mobile phone (cell phone) a new suit and some money. He is now desperate to find out who imprisoned him for fifteen years and why. His ultimate goal is revenge.

The first thing Oh Dae-Su does when he gets off the roof is to enter a sushi resturant. He tells the sushi chef, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) that he wants to eat something alive. She serves him live octopus. Immdiately after eating the octopus Oh Dae-Su passes out. Mi-do takes him to her apartment to look after him.

When he awakens, Oh Dae-Su tells Mi-do his story and she decides to help him. In one of the funniest scenes in the film, Oh Dae-Su, who is desperate for sex breaks into the bathroom while Mi-do is on the toilet. She had just previously told him not to ‘try anything’ and she backs this up by beating Oh Dae-su until he gives up.

Later she explains that even though she has been among people she too has been alone. The two wind up becoming lovers and Oh Dae-Su tells her to pray for a younger lover next time since he is so mucholder than she is.

The two then play detective to figure out where Oh Dae-Su was kept captive. As he was fed Chinese dumplings for fifteen years from a Blue Dragon restaurant  they go around to every Blue Dragon where Oh Dae-Su samples the dumplings. Once he finds the dumplings he figures out where he was kept prisoner. He tricks his way in and tortures his old warden until he tell him who locked him up.

Oh Dae-Su then has to fight his way out of the hotel against an army of thugs. Armed only with a hammer and his fists he makes his way out of the hotel and onto the street.

Now that he knows who his captor was, Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu), he finds that Lee wants him to figure out why he was incarcerated. Oh Dae-Su learns that he and his captor went to the same school and that Lee was having incestuous sex with his own sister. Oh Dae-Su sees them at it and tells his best friend, just as he (Oh Dae-Su) is leaving the school for good, with the warning that he should not tell anyone. His best friend of course tells everyone and Lee’s sister kills herself.

English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents th...
Min-sik Choi

I’ve spent a lot of time setting up the main plot of the film. But I haven’t talked about what I think of as the film’s “set pieces.” It is the set pieces that have made this film’s popularity grow and made an impression on everyone who has seen it.

Set piece number one is that long violent, and punishing, corridor fight scene. It is a true show-stopper. It was done in one take, over a three day time span. You can tell that the actors and stuntmen are exhausted. Some of the “half-hearted” punches and kicks that are clear misses are due to the tiredness of the players instead of poor choreography.

Set piece number two is the scene where Oh Dae-Su cuts off his tongue. At the end of the film, he does this in order to pay his “debt” to Lee for inadvertently causing Lee’s sister to kill her self. He is also doing it in a last ditch attempt to save Mi-do from finding out that he, Oh Dae-Su is her father.

The whole theme of the film is two-fold, vengence (obviously) and incest. It really comes as no surprise that this won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and that Quentin Tarantino lavished so much praise on the film.

Oldboy is a Korean crowd pleaser. It helped open the door for Korean films to the rest of the world. In my opinion Chan-wook Park’s other films in his vengeance trilogy were better. Oldboy for all it’s colour and complex plot, was a bit choppy at the end. His other two films Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance were tighter and more neatly tied up at the end of each respective film.

Still Oldboy has shot to the top of the list of ‘must see’ Korean films and rightfully so. It is as good a place as any to start in regards to Korean cinema and certainly will not disappoint the novice Korean film fan.

love Korean cinema and adore Min-sik Choi as an actor. I would have to say that as of this moment, I think South Korea outshines the rest of the world with their film making. I am probably a little prejudicial in this claim as I think that Korea has two of the best directors in the world right now in Chan-wook Park and Jee-woon Kim.

I will of course watch the re-make. I am a huge fan of Spike Lee’s work and I think that Josh Brolin is one of the best actors in the business. It will be interesting to see what Mr Lee does with his version of the story.

If I had to give it a rating, I’d have to say a 3.5 out of 4 stars.  Watch it and you’ll see why Chan-wook Park is the film critic’s darling.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Remake Train: Oldboy

Cover of "Oldboy"
Cover of Oldboy

I have just read that Spike Lee is re-making Oldboy. To say I’m angy and dismayed is the understatement of the century. I am not too surprised as there is apparently some sort of loophole in the Korean film system where the owners/creators of a Korean film have no rights. Anyone can take their film lock, stock and barrel and remake it.  This is the second time (that I’m aware of) where Hollywood has decided to take advantage of this copyright loophole.

 

 

 

English: Spike Lee at the Vanity Fair kickoff ...

 

 

The first time was with the brilliant Tale Of Two Sisters, Jee-woon Kim’s masterpiece. This film was a skilful blend of supernatural horror and psychological thriller. It was butchered beyond all recognition by Hollywood in the re-make titled The Uninvited. It beggars belief that Hollywood can see the merit of the original film and then re-make it so badly that it is nigh-on unrecognisable upon completion.

 

DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy
DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now Hollywood has it’s sights firmly set on Oldboy.  Oldboy was part of Chan-wook Park’s ”vengeance” trilogy. The first of which was Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. The last of the trilogy was Lady Vengeance. Oldboy was sandwiched firmly in the middle. That Park is a master craftsman is undeniable. When you watch these films you feel overwhelmed by the imagery and the intricacy of the plots. Of course Min-sik Choi features in two of the films.  He is the star of Oldboy, the villain in Lady Vengeance and is suitably different in each role.

 

English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents th...
English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents the film Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells at 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dearly love all three films, although Sympathy for Mr Vengeance always depresses me no end when I watch it. The point is all three films have so much in common. I’m not talking about plot here. I’m talking about the amount of care that Park takes in the crafting of each film.  In Oldboy for example, look at the clothes the three main protagonists wear. Each of the characters wear certain colours and patterns that tell you, who they are and how they fit into the film. The set designs have been developed the same way. I could go on for hours about the amount of effort that Asian film makers put into their films, but I think it would start to sound a bit like ranting.

 

I think that Asian cinema has some of the most talented directors in the world  at the moment. Asian directors usually write the screen plays of the films they direct and in some cases produce them as well. If ever the phrase of  ”director as auteur” applied to anyone, it applies to Asian directors. For Hollywood to re-make the work of these masters without asking permission, or (most disturbingly) without conferring with them on the process of the re-make itself is criminal. At the very least it is a little nuts. The very fact that the original films were so successful almost mandates an invitation for original creators to be involved.

 

There is no denying that Hollywood is on the “Remake Train.”  They aren’t just remaking World Cinema’s great films, they’re remaking much loved Hollywood films as well. True Grit was released earlier this year. And a list of further re-makes that are upcoming is long and upsetting.  One of the latest is The Wild Bunch which is under going talks to be directed by Tony Scott. It is disturbing to think that the well of talent is so dry in Hollywood that they’ve had to resort to remaking other peoples classic/iconic films to turn a profit.

 

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood is no longer the “Dream Factory,” they are now the“Remake Factory.”