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UFO Viewings: Oh Boy! (2)

Oh Boy! (2)

First, let me explain. 
I have been pencrippled for the last few weeks by the audacity of death and annihilation.
I have been devoid of creative thinking. You can't do that when there is a death wave. A tsunami of departures. 
But, any way, it has abated a little!


Where are all my readers in Sweden?
I loved your country guys. But chose to go back when my country was a little tolerable. 
Now, I am thrown into the diaspora, country-less but warmly nestled in Canada!


In part (1) of this post we touched on the original movie Oldboy 2003. We were even able to find a full-viewing of it for my Arabic speaking readers. We also spoke lightly on the American remake of this movie by Spike Lee. You will notice that unlike his previous movies, Mr Lee did not wish to give this movie his preferred name: a Spike Lee Joint; that's how he called his movies, joints! He did no call Oldboy a joint because the man was being very cautious as the mission he had undertaken was hard. And as noted, American movies are governed by certain criteria, limits and standards. Artistically, you are supposed to make your movie pretty much following the Aristotelian model viz. there must be catharsis of some sort expressed by that sigh of relief from the audience at the end of your movie. Mr. Lee and his screenwriter knew that the original Korean movie was not obliged to effect such catharsis. The Korean version of Oldboy does not address viewers' aspiration for absolution and that is precisely why it has such a strong emotional impact on viewers. 
Hence is Lee's insistence to object to calling his movie a remake. He calls it a reinterpretation or an adaptation because he did have to change certain things to a degree. One source estimates that editing violence cut out 40 minutes out of his movie, (joint?). In one interview Spike Lee revealed a number of issues raised by his making of this movie, Oldboy. I will put them in bullet points for you to contemplate:

  • On talking to the Korean director Park regarding the remake, Spike Lee said he does not speak Korean and the Korean does not know English, therefore there was not any consultation between them..
  • Mr. Lee reminded his interviewer that he is a professor at NYU i.e he does not need to consult with anyone on his movie-making.
  • That he did this movie in the face of people who thought making it was heresy or sacrilegious.
  • One reason he stated for remaking a Korean movie is that its original would be culturally removed from American audience. He called Koreans 'exotic people'.
  • Another reason for a remake of a Korean movie is to rid the audience of reading subtitles.
  •  Most Americans don't go see a foreign movie, especially a Korean one.
  • Spike Lee smoothly relayed to the audience the idea that the Korean original movie itself was made on a Japanese manga (a comic book or graphic novel).
The issues laid by Spike Lee in that interview, such as subtitles, cultural remoteness and being foreign (or exotic!) invite discussion and argument. I will just briefly say my opinion on the point of cultural differences between 'exotic' Asians and Americans. I see no major problem here. Korea, for instance, is a capitalism-based country. They live the same kind of life under monetary oppression. The Korean movie Oldboy does not contain anything that is culturally remote from North Americans. On themes of shame and disgrace there cannot be a difference between people who are reigned by religious thought.The impact of incest on Americans is similar to that on Koreans. Otherwise Spike Lee would not have cared if he were to end his movie the way it was ended by his Korean predecessor. Besides, cinema being an international language, enables viewers to transcend cultural differences; to transcend language or accent hurdles. A good movie is likely seen more than once; so subtitles can be allocated one of these viewings. Repeated viewings are encouraged by many filmmakers who voiced their belief that each time you see a certain movie you will discover images you did not see before. This is abundant in movies by Stanley Kubrick or Tarantino.


If someone shames your sister it is not a big deal, right? Here in North America, not Korea! 
We are taught that there is a system now; you can't just back-fire and destroy him or her. You can go ahead and make a movie that tells how you would exact atrocities on them by way of revenge. But even in that , just as in reality, atrocities are weighed and measured by a system. So, no matter how hard you push the limits, the system has only this much of violence and retribution to allow. Such existential excesses as revenge are sort of abandoned in this uni-pop cultural, mono-hegemonic world of today. But you can treat it to a movie! People are being told it is not civilized to take revenge. The system has people craving for popcorn rather than the movie, play or concert etc. in the comfort of a movie theater. But, the craving for basic human values, for reliving a previous life of heroic and glorious moralities and justices is still prevalent. People have lost a lot of human qualities and revenge as 'getting back what is yours' rhymes with the feeling of justice. That is why people leave the movie theater at the end of a revenge film with a sigh of relief. By its nature, revenge is such a lucrative theme and one that people are still fascinated by. The original Oldboy movie is one of a trilogy on vengeance or revenge. Examples of memorable revenge movies from recent lists: Payback 1999, Kill Bill 2003/4, Gladiator 2000 and many more.


When you run a comparison between Oldboy 2003 and Oldboy 2013 you are likely going to agree with Spike Lee that what he did was not a remake but a re-interpretation. He made some important changes. Please note that I still ask the primary question: why remake a successful movie that is not even old enough to be remade, being made in 2003?
Spike Lee's movie is a good movie. The only problem is if you have not seen the Korean Oldboy, this rating of 'good' may oscillate between good and excellent. If you saw the Korean version you need to be very objective to stay on/or above the rating of 'good' for Lee's version. Probably it is harder than this!

Chan-wook Park

I found the communication between Josh Brolin, the protagonist of Lee's Oldboy and Chan-wook Park, the maker of the original Oldboy quite interesting. Brolin was seeking the blessings of Park! This is like you go see Leonardo da Vinci because you are planning to draw his Mona Lisa!

Josh Brolin

Park on his part was clear: go make your own movie, you and Lee. Hence the insistence of Lee that he did not remake Oldboy. He did his own interpretation and quickly asserted that his origins were the Japanese manga from which the Korean had made the first Oldboy!
I will try to outline prominent differences in Spike Lee's rendering of Oldboy.

  • The Character of Mido/Marie: Mido, the chef at the Sushi bar in Park's version is replaced by a nurse, Marie. Quite a different character. Mido had innocence or even childishness that you can love on second viewing and relate to when you find out why she had to appear so innocent. Marie is not on an unusual or pervert part of the equation.
    Dae su eating live octopus
  • The First Martial Arts Fight: Joe's first test of martial-arts skills ilearned during his imprisonment was on a group of college-age guys who were trying to help the girl he was chasing after he came out of the box he was sent to reality in. In the original Oldboy movie Dae-su, the equivalent for Joe in Lee's version, initiated his first fight because he wanted to test his fighting abilities. It's completely different.
  • The Fight with Thugs: the original hallway fight sequence, an iconic visual experience made as a single horizontal shot, had (as aptly described by one critic) ".. the feel of a panoramic battle scene etched on a Greek vase." In Lee's version the fight as a visual landmark for his movie was not bad but adding an extra level of ground for the fight removed the original Greek-Vase quality and somewhat shrunk its aesthetic quality. 
Battle on a Vase

  • Samuel L. Jackson in his first return to work with Lee since Jungle Fever, plays the watchman for the protagonist Joe during his years of mysterious incarceration. In the scene where Joe tracks down this watchman, I found Lee's execution of this part more disturbing than in the original Oldboy movie. This is mainly due to the intentionally unsteady angles of shooting the scene that appear to give you a feeling of loss of balance which adds to the dramatic intensity. A credit for Spike Lee.
The Two Major Misses: First the octopus eaten alive. After 15 years of deprivation from good food or even the sense of real life, the protagonist in the Korean version goes into a Sushi bar and orders something live to eat. He is offered an octopus which he eats while its tentacles are touching his face, groping for safety. Gross, right? You can do that in a Korean movie but not in a US movie! WHY? 
The second miss which is the major deviation from the Korean version is how the movie ends. Spike Lee had to straighten things morally and effect catharsis. He chose a morally correct ending as per American standard requirements for rating and acceptance. Not that he did not know the powerful cinematic device of moral ambiguity and brutality that made the Korean version so troubling and unforgettable.
Wrote one critic, "Either you should see Park’s ultra-violent and intensely melodramatic Korean original or you shouldn't, and it’s definitely not for everybody.But this decaffeinated, attenuated American substitute feels like a movie for nobody."



  • The Korean original movie Oldboy debut was in Cannes, where it picked up the Grand Jury prize, and also won Best Foreign Film at the British Independent Film Awards.
  • Spike Lee's version had Sean Babbitt as cinematographer. Babbitt has shot Steve McQueen's Hunger, Shame and 12 Years a Slave. 

Useful Links:


  1. To leave your homeland is a kind of a death. But if you leave it in the hope of building a better future, then your leaving is a rebirth.

  2. True, but depends on how old you arrive into a new culture! I believe that this 'having to arrive at a new culture' should be stopped. It's no different if you were an American or a Somali as long as you are not oppressed and/or taken advantage of.


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