Those who are close to me know that “Oldboy” is my favorite film of all time. It’s a cinematic masterpiece. I don’t say that lightly. I also don’t want to spoil anything so I will not talk about any of the plot.
I watched the trailer for the remake and I must say I expected to feel nausea but instead it made me excited. If Spike Lee doesn’t change the end (which I can’t tell in the trailer) an amazing story is going to reach people who would have never seen it.
I have been a part of few debates with fellow cinematic nerds and I discovered something about me–I am very pragmatic with art. As much as it holy ground for me I pick my battles when it comes to artistic integrity.
I don’t deal with academic settings, (through the shitty jobs I have had) I’m used to dealing with people who couldn’t give a damn about art but for me the humanities: art, music, movies, history, culture, and literature gives my life great meaning, joy, and purpose but I know a lot people who could care less and rather watch porn, reality tv, or read porn and watch reality TV.
I do believe there is still a culture war (and a war for art to keep it from sucking) but I also believe in this ‘war’ we must pick our battles. I will state for the record that it saddens me as an American that this movie is being remade because we are so lazy and/or xenophobic of a people that we can’t read subtitles or relate to Asian characters (unless it is “The Joy Luck Club”).
It is ironic that for a country that is supposed to be a melting pot, we still are very white, very english, and very lazy when it comes to art. Even a bigger irony is the man to make this movie is one of the elder statesmen of American Black Cinema. But maybe that is the way it should be, “Oldboy” deals with alienation, a tragic anti-hero, and existential views of the self that can only be rivaled with “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. Maybe Spike connected to it the way he did to Ellison’s book or maybe he just wanted to direct a really great piece of art that would make him more than just a ‘black film maker’?
For the Americans who have never seen “Oldboy” because they don’t read subtitles, I accept this and don’t old my nose up at the choice. Some people just don’t like subtitles, artistically. So it goes.
I have accepted that these are the times we live, art needs to spoon fed to the majority of audiences; I can say this as a writer, you are not rewarded (in the short-term) for challenging people. Risk is not encouraged in the marketplace of average readers and movie watchers (in Cable TV with fewer choices, artistic risk has been rewarded).
Creating Art is becoming like a carb free diet where we have to make cauliflower taste like mashed potatoes. You have to hide those high ideals into something gooey and fun that will go down easy.
Also, in the digital age, marketing will be rewarded more than artistic merit. Just look on Amazon Top 100 list of free books it is awful ‘art’ but the book covers are more ‘marketable’ and ‘familiar’ than something different. It is a reality that serious artists need to accept and adapt to, but I digress…
I still think this remake is a great idea because great art can change hearts and minds, and the themes of “Oldboy”, the experience of the story is worth it for the average person to see an English-speaking James Brolin share the same experience as the actor Min-sik-Choi. This is movie that stayed me with many after the first viewing. It changed how viewed the world which is what great art is supposed to do.
This is a great film idea and should have a great director do the remake as many have argued Tarantino would be been perfect for this movie (it does deal with revenge), but I think he would feel ‘dirty’ remaking this. Tarantino loves to tribute almost to the point of stealing but he is not a thief and respects and loves the original film too much. It wouldn’t be his thing.
Spike Lee is the interesting choice and I think he can be the right director for this. I feel he wants to prove himself as he as yet found critical and box office success since “Do The Right Thing.” That filmed showed he does have skills along with “Bamboozled” but he has had a lot of bombs and this could be the film that makes his legacy.
This is the film where we will learn if Spike Lee is truly a solid director or just a decent ‘black film maker’ with a great work ethic.
We will know after we see this remake because this is a can’t miss script and if you haven’t seen it already you are in for an amazing film.
As for myself, will I enjoy the remake? I think I will, I enjoyed “The Hunger Games” which was basically a rip off or remake of “Battle Royale.” I’ve seen Old Boy 7 times, once in theatre and 2 by myself, and last with friends who I forced the movie upon. I’ve seen it enough to see it has a few flaws that maybe Spike Lee and the screenwriter can tighten.
But when it is all said and done and we sit watch this in theatre and it will be about the story: not the language, not the style–the story and “Oldboy” is one best stories I’ve experienced in this century and if it needs to be white and in English for people to experience it then so be it. They will be better people for it. The art world in America will be better for it too.