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Oldboy (2013 remake)

tn_oldboyBefore I talk about the remake of OLDBOY it’s important that I say I liked the original but only saw it one time 8 years ago. Here’s what I wrote about it then.

In the remake directed by Spike Lee and written by Mark Protosevich (THE CELL, I AM LEGEND), Josh Brolin (THRASHIN’) plays a Nick Nolte character named Joe Doucett. He’s an alcoholic, sexually harassing deadbeat dad and advertising asshole who after a long night of drinking, puking and crying in 1993 meets a woman who takes him to a hotel and when he wakes up he realizes she’s not there and there are no windows or doorknobs. One of those hotel conundrums, you know. And this was before Yelp and shit like that so he couldn’t even give them a bad review. Turns out this is not a normal hotel in that you can’t leave. Someone, for some reason, has locked him in this weird prison. Every day they stick a plate of dumplings and a bottle of vodka through a hatch in the door, but they don’t tell him why he’s here.

He does have a TV though. I wonder if they ever played CASTAWAY on one of the channels he got? Something gave him the idea of drawing a face with blood on his pillow to keep him company. Because of the news he knows all about Bill Clinton, 9-11, the “mission accomplished” banner and Hurricane Katrina. And probly watches the entire run of Frasier, although that is not covered in the movie. Nor is the conversion from analog to digital TV signals. At some point they must’ve snuck in and upgraded his TV.

Where were you when you first heard about [any major event between 1993 and 2013]? Joe was in this hotel room. And it’s funny to see the guy who played George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W watching so much footage of the real George W. Bush. But it’s depressing when he learns from the TV that right after he got locked up his wife was raped and murdered and everybody thinks he did it. The people who locked him up gassed him and took genetic material from him to plant on the body. Not cool. Come on, you guys. This isn’t funny anymore.

mp_oldboybDuring his time of isolation he wonders why he’s there. He makes a list of people who might have a reason to do this to him, but like I said, he’s a fucking asshole, it’s a long list. He decides to try to better himself. He uses fitness infomercials both as masturbation material and as training. He does pullups and pushups. Like Jija in CHOCOLATE he watches martial arts movies and is able to learn all the moves.

It’s weird that he tattoos hash marks on his hand to remember how many years go by. Did he do that in the original? I thought he wrote on the walls. Not only does Joe have walls here but he has pen and paper! Plus he’s able to watch TV, I’m sure he could count on TV to remind him the year at least every December. But I guess he’s not in a condition for good decision-making. And once he’s done one or two he might as well keep going every year. Make it a tradition.

In a semi-related matter, I don’t get why the lady who lures him there was holding an umbrella with hashmarks printed all over it. Almost as if she knows she’s in OLDBOY. Is she carrying swag for the movie she exists in? Weird.

(spoilers for major story points of movie coming up)

After 20 years (5 more than in the original – America does it bigger and better!) they mysteriously release him into the wild. His old bartender/school chum Chucky (Michael Imperioli) lets him in and helps him out despite him being a fugitive. Also he befriends a young volunteer medic (Elizabeth Olsen) and the three of them try to figure out who set him up. Suddenly a weird rich guy (South African filmatist turned actor Sharlto Copley from DISTRICT 9 and THE A-TEAM) comes to him and claims responsibility, but Joe doesn’t even know who the fuck this guy is. The guy kidnaps Joe’s daughter and gives him 48 hours to figure out who he is and why he hates him so much he locked him up for 20 years. Pretty harsh implication there, that Joe is such an asshole he could anger a person that much and not even remember it. Like maybe he just walks around all day inspiring twenty-year revenge plots everywhere he goes. There could be guys he ran into at a grocery store one time in the ’90s still plotting against him.

He’s kind of like unfrozen caveman lawyer. He doesn’t understand how computers and phones work, so his friends help him out by Googling and Shazamming for him. (This is the first time I’ve noticed an app placement.) There’s definitely alot more smart phone stuff in this than in the original. Also the tone is pretty different. The look and feel of Chan Wook Park’s version was much more exaggerated and dream-like. In most scenes (the coming-out-of-a-suitcase scene pictured on some of the posters is an exception) Lee treats it more like reality, which makes the more outrageous parts, like the big hammer fight scene, seem more ridiculous.

That’s gotta be the most famous part of the original, right, the long take of him going down the hall fighting a bunch of guys with a hammer? You’d feel like an asshole leaving that out, so Lee stages a pretty faithful redo. In his version the battle goes left to right and then down a ramp and right to left. Pretty cool. I believe the credits said that J.J. Perry (UNDISPUTED II) did the choreography, and it makes sense. Brolin acquits himself well, and it’s fun to see him doing all these moves even though it seems kinda out of place in the movie.

It’s strange to see a big fight sequence in a Spike Lee movie, that’s not something he’s done before. In fact, what action has he done outside of some battles in MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA? Not many. But he adapts well. Another thing we haven’t really seen him do until now: gore. But he’s got throats gashing blood and a nasty torture scene and a graphic cap peeling.

mp_oldboyI have to admit, if I saw this with no knowledge I would not be able to identify it as the work of Spike Lee. I think there are some cool insert shots during the hotel section that remind me of his style, but only ’cause I’m looking for it. That’s disappointing, because to me the attraction of Spike Lee doing a remake of OLDBOY is to find out what a Spike Lee remake of OLDBOY would look like. Turns out it doesn’t look very much like a Spike Lee remake of OLDBOY.

Here’s a weird thing. This is not officially “a Spike Lee Joint.” He revoked its Joint status due to a dispute with the studio. (Also I noticed there was no 40 Acres and a Mule “Sho Nuff Ya Dig” after the credits.) All he’ll say publicly is “tough business,” but reportedly they cut about 35 minutes from his version and he and Brolin both implied disappointment about it in interviews. In an episode of the Q&A Podcast Lee avoids questions about it but later lets it slip that the hammer fight actually continued left to right again on a third level and the dumbass studio made him cut it. This is how bad the post-action thing has gotten: when a director includes a clear action scene the studio figures this is the boring stuff you need to cut out to appeal to the mainstream.

I didn’t notice the cut in that scene. What I did notice was something obviously missing during the incarceration section. There’s a great scene of him discovering that instead of a window behind the curtains there’s a rotating photo, the wooden door is actually a cheap wood grain decal over metal, etc. But suddenly, the first time we see food come in through the door, he already seems to know it’s about to come in and that there’s someone out there to try to talk to. Of all the things to cut out of this section you’d think the parts where he’s realizing that he’s locked up would be off limits. It doesn’t make alot of sense the way it plays out.

This may or may not be from the forced cuts, but some of the stuff that happens in the 20 years is rushed through so fast it’s almost comical. A little white mouse gets into the room through a hole, Joe feeds it, befriends it, lets it crawl all over him, makes it a little bed, is there when it gives birth to a litter of baby mice, witnessing the miracle of life. Then to his horror his captors bring the whole family of mice to him served up as his dinner. Or as his warning not to care about anything ever again. Brolin gets so into it and it looks like real baby mice which is an amazing thing to see and it’s such a touching story… except the entire subplot happens in probly under a minute and then is over with. I was kinda in between being moved by it and thinking it was hilarious. It’s too many different emotions to cram into that short a piece of the movie.

Mr. Senor Love Daddy himself, Samuel L. Hold Onto Your Butts Jackson, plays the guy who runs the hotel prison. It’s a pretty small part, but it’s kinda a cool role for Jackson because it’s more of a weirdo than he usually gets to play. And I like how you can identify the time period by whether his mohawk is blond or black.

Copley doesn’t come off as well. He kinda looks like Steve Carell in an MTV Movie Awards parody of HUNGER GAMES:

I really liked his crazy performance in ELYSIUM, but this is not his jam. He’s good at playing maniacs, but I think effeminate upper class Brit is out of his range, he’s not that convincing at it. I read that they offered it to Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Clive Owen but they all turned it down. Those guys would’ve been good (Firth was an especially inspired choice) but when they found out they weren’t getting a guy like that maybe they should’ve figured out a different way to do the character.

Chan Wook Park’s version is 10 years old, and there’s been an American version in development for most of that time. Protective film geeks lost their shit all over the place when Will Smith and Steven Spielberg were gonna do an adaptation of the manga the movie is based on (which apparently is very different, not even having the big crazy twist that is the second thing I associate with the movie after the hammer fight). Before that it was gonna be pre-everybody-catching-on-to-his-FAST-AND-FURIOUS-movies Justin Lin with Nic Cage starring.

It’s still hard to picture what Spielberg and Smith would’ve done with this. Smith was the one that brought on Protosevitch, so maybe this is somewhat similar. Now that I’ve seen it I’m not outraged or nothin, but I wish I could go back to the Lin and Cage one. I think that would’ve been the best option.  I knew during the montage of Brolin going around tasting different dumplings to try to recognize the food he was given while imprisoned that this was clearly a job for Nic Cage. That montage would’ve made a good companion to his hot soup eating monologue in BANGKOK DANGEROUS. It would be another remake of an Asian movie under his belt, and it would make a trilogy of cult movie remakes from interesting directors along with his WICKER MAN and BAD LIEUTENANT.

As good as Brolin is in this, Cage could’ve brought a mega quality to liven things up. The story uses alot of his best gears: drunk, on a rampage, crazily talking to himself, nurturing baby animals. He would be hilarious and wonderful. There’s almost no humor in Lee’s version, although I did chuckle a little at the worst moment, when Brolin found out the big twist and dropped to his knees in anguish as the music soared. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. Copley holds his arms out and looks up like he’s soaking in the light of God. It’s just too much.

I always wondered if an American remake would be willing to have the crazy twist, or if it would even be appropriate in an American movie. To be honest I thought the (EVEN MORE SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE STARTING NOW) incest twist was pretty silly. I was willing to go with it, but for me it kinda veered the movie more into enjoyable over-the-top trash than the high art it has a reputation as.

In some ways the remake tones things down. There is no hypnotism, and he doesn’t cut his own tongue out (his friend gets his tongue cut out, but that’s nothing). But for the reveal about what the guy is getting revenge for Spike actually made it even more ridiculous. In the original I believe the protagonist had accidentally revealed that the guy was fucking his sister, and then she committed suicide. In this one the guy’s sister was fucking his dad, and also he was fucking his dad, and he enjoyed it and still misses it, and instead of just one person committing suicide the dad shoots his daughter, wife, son (who survives) and himself, and we see all this in a graphic flashback.

I don’t know what they shoulda done, but I think they needed to do alot better with this twist. If you’re gonna make the American version of this story shouldn’t the big change be culturally American? Instead the bad guy is a prissy upper crust English guy played by a South African who isn’t entirely convincing in the role. It’s almost like Spike is jokingly enacting dumb people’s fantasy of him being anti-white, creating new white stereotypes. Rich white people are prissy fake Brits with long fingernails and the whole family likes to fuck each other. You see what goes on behind closed doors at these private schools?

Contrast that with THE DEPARTED. I know some people still dislike that movie on the basis of it not being INFERNAL AFFAIRS, but the thing is, Scorsese and his writers took that great story and put it in this very specific world of Boston organized crime and police culture. Alot of what we love about that movie has nothing to do with INFERNAL AFFAIRS, because it has to do with the language and details of the region they moved it to. It’s an American texture. OLDBOY doesn’t really do that. It’s not more American. It’s just a little different. In that Q&A podcast Lee said some admirable things about not wanting to translate it, because Americans should be able to relate to things from other cultures. I like what he says, but it makes for a less interesting movie.

Well, I can’t say this is a good Spike Lee movie or a good remake of OLDBOY. But I gotta admit I didn’t hate it. At least Brolin gets a good acting workout, that’s the main reason I don’t regret watching it. The Chan Wook Park version will still live on on our shelves, and the Nic Cage one in that special part of our dreams called Mega-Krypton.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 at 4:13 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

49 Responses to “Oldboy (2013 remake)”

  1. Vern, I’ll think you’ll find that the MOST famous scene from the original involves some peculiar dinner habits. You don’t mention it in your review, so I guess Brolin doesn’t share Min-sik Choi’s love for seafood?

  2. Hey Vern, it probably doesn’t matter to most of your readership, but paragraph 8 gives away a spoilery plot point a little earlier in your review than (I think) you mean to.

  3. lost a lot of respect for lee after his shitty response to a poster artist for this movie getting screwed over

  4. Pegsman – Brolan, unfortunately, doesn’t eat any live seafood, but in one of several allusions to the original film, he does spend a second examining an octopus in an aquarium tank.

  5. Will be interesting to see this. I loved the original OLDBOY but loved even more Park Chan-Wooks previous film SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE. One of my favourite revenge-movies.

  6. Yeah, I was really looking forward a Spike Lee version of this as well, but it’s pretty anonymous. I’m surprised no one ever comments on his biggest addition, which is that hypnotic butler ad in the room. Apparently that’s Lee’s brother, who played that role in “Mystery Train,” a movie I don’t remember well. But I also think it’s Spike’s commentary on an extended period of servitude and slavery. (spoilers) I think it’s meant to emphasize the history of stuff like that (a la Bamboozled) where blacks were subtly trained by art and society that they SHOULD be subservient, that they ARE lesser. Which feeds into the very-different ending from the original, where now Joe can’t accept anything other than a life in that hotel prison, hidden away from anything else. He thinks that’s what he deserves because he can’t imagine any other life for him. After 20 years, he’s been trained to be captive.

    Anyway, yeah, Nicolas Cage was my dream pick for this movie. And looking at the financials, it’s not like it would have made any less money if they went with him over Brolin. Cage would also have done the aging better – Brolin clearly ages from 43 to 45 over 20 years. They didn’t even bother.

    I remember talking to Justin Lin once, when he was attached to this, but it didn’t look like it would get made. He told me he wasn’t doing it, but that Scorsese, of all people, might direct it. I see Marty made his freak flag fly with Wolf of Wall Street, but Marty’s Oldboy would have definitely had its own identity.

    Also, when I saw it in NYC, I am pretty sure I was sitting across from Tom Jane. I’d like to think he was researching, and wanted the remake role. Maybe.

  7. Sharlto Copley’s accent in the trailer struck me as beyond bizarre. Not that I would have been lining up for this, but even so…

  8. The Original... Paul

    December 17th, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    To my shame, I haven’t seen the original “Oldboy” yet. I picked it up a few months back at my local secondhand DVD shop – I’d meant to for ages before that, but especially since seeing “Stoker”, which was supposed the same director’s second-rate effort (if that’s what classes as “second-rate” for him then all I can say is that his first-rate work must be very, very, very good indeed). It goes without saying that I’ll be avoiding the remake – I’d do that even if it had got excellent reviews, and, well, it hasn’t.

  9. Pegsman – yeah, they have a couple squid references, but Brolin doesn’t eat one. Come to think of it that’s another reason why Nic Cage shoulda done it.

    Zed – Thanks, I added a spoiler warning before the paragraph. Was it the part about him not knowing who the guy was? That’s all first half of the movie stuff, but you’re probly right that it’s taking some of the mystery of the first half out.

    border – Yeah, he can be a dick, though he obviously wouldn’t have anything to do with the payment of poster designers and probly shouldn’t have been called out on Twitter by the guy.

  10. I think Vern is on the money here and I can cosign most of his analysis. A few thoughts:

    The whole edit of the imprisonment sequence seems to be a direct lift from the original film, in which the very first thing you see in the prison is him yelling at his feeder through the hole at the bottom of the door; it definitely forces you to fill in some blanks mentally. If anything the remake is more discursive than the original in this regard.

    The original has a lot of sort of magic realist / humanist impulses: when he’s first out of prison, he takes a burning cigarette out of the mouth of a young punk, whose gang knocks him to the ground and prepares to beat the shit out of him: lying there, he just sort of drifts and savors a drag on the cigarette. Earlier, he makes the first guy he sees upon being freed touch his face, and weeps at his touch. And of course there’s the detail about them both having hallucinations about ants.

    While I really loved this shit (and feel that it’s the strongest thread in the original film) I congratulate the remake for completely eliding this impulse and creating a more gritty, lurid reality. The picture Vern used of him hoisting the encyclopedias represents the film’s feel well in my opinion. I don’t like it as much but at least it tried to do its own thing.

    The movie really failed for me once it comes time for the major plot details to come into focus; Vern covered it well with his assessment of the villain and twist reveals and such. I think all three lead performances are pretty disappointing given how good they’ve been elsewhere (let’s not forget that Olsen is quite a promising actress given her turn in MMMM) .

  11. Paul – I strongly disagree with the notion that Stoker is a sub par effort from Chanwook Park. I think it’s one of his very best films, and certainly better than the original Oldboy, though not as good as Lady Vengeance or Thirst.

    Lady Vengeance is still easily my favorite film he’s made. There are so many ideas in it I’ve never seen other films attempt (whether due to my ignorance or it genuinely being an original film I dunno). The hero trading favors of murder and (literally) parts of her body for the loyalty of her allies, who she then deploys with little remorse to endure horrible shit in the name of her cause; the scene where a particular character acts as interpreter between her and her daughter; holy shit.

  12. Interesting, Renfield. I didn’t remember the original well enough to know that the food delivery was introduced in the same way. Do you think it works in the remake? If I hadn’t heard about the movie being shortened would it have worked as unorthodox storytelling instead of coming across as a mistake? It felt wrong to me but I’d be interested if it played well for others.

  13. It’s hard for me to say because unlike you I rewatched the original film several days before seeing the remake; the delivery of information certainly works in the original, and while it did work for me in the remake I can’t say whether it was just due to me saying “oh okay, they’re doing the same thing here” or if it makes sense on its own terms.

    In the Korean film, they’re already sort of chopping things up before he gets to prison. It starts with him being detained at a police station, without really telling you why he’s there; the timeline is sorta choppy right out of the gate.

  14. “Plus he’s able to watch TV, I’m sure he could count on TV to remind him the year at least every December. ”
    I seem to remember that in the original he didn’t have control over the TV. It just turned on and off, seemingly as another way of tormenting him.

  15. Yo Vern. Make sure you see Dhoom 3 in theaters Friday. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeF_b8EQcK0

  16. Does the original OLDBOY have a reputation as high art? I like it primarily because it’s a weird mix of trashiness and art. Somehow in Korea they’ve figured out the secret formula to take a bunch of wildly divergent tones and styles and genres and moosh them together into something really unique and interesting.

    renfield: I was surprised when a lot people were disappointed by STOKER, as I thought it was easily on par with his other films. I think part of it is the language barrier makes it easier for Western audiences to accept the more bizarre and baroque elements of his style. LADY VENGEANCE and was incredible and THIRST is one of my favourite vampire films ever.

    Disappointing to hear they cut a bunch out of the film and shortened the hammer fight. I may wait until a Re-Jointed Edition DVD comes out.

  17. I must have watched that DHOOM 3 trailer like a million times. Never heard of this series but it looks pretty awesome. Sadly my cinematographical knowledge of Bollywood films is sorely lacking.

  18. Hi Vern – By spoiler, I meant the “d-word” with regards to the female lead. That’s the big reveal at the end, right? (Trying not to be too specific so I don’t spoil anyone myself.) The rest seems okay.

  19. I too have not seen the original since that lost age of 2005, but I remember it being pretty damn great, I entertained seeing this remake but then I realized it was not even playing anywhere near me, so if it did bad in theaters maybe it has something to do with it being that limited a release

    what’s weird about this movie to me though is it already feels like a throwback from a different time, I’m surprised it actually got made at all, the whole “Asian remake” trend died in 2008 and I assumed the OLDBOY remake died with it, yet here we are

    also, I wish I could be the guy to inform you all how exactly the manga is different, but unfortunately I’ve never read it

  20. I agree that the film would have been more interesting if Spike Lee had tried to put more of himself into the film. Still, it was fun seeing him work within a specific genre, and for the most part he acquitted himself nicely. The film looked nice and the action was well staged. The movie as a whole was underwhelming, but I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that most people watching the film have already seen the original. If the rumors about Spike Lee doing a vampire flick are true, then Oldboy might serve as a nice dry run for a more plot and action oriented film.

  21. Spike lee owns an ad company. It’s likely that his contract requires the studio to employ his company for advertising. Also: lee put a watermark with *his* copyright on the images.

    So, not sure lee is in the clear here.

  22. Crustacean – You might be right, it definitely has an extreme cult movie type of following. On the other hand it won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and is #18 on Empire’s list of the 100 Best Films of World Cinema between AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD and THE APU TRILOGY.

    Zed – Oh, don’t worry. Without being too specific either, I described it as it plays out in that part of the movie, not as you understand it at the end.

  23. Stu – if there’s any detail in the original film about the television being beyond his control, I missed it.

  24. The Original... Paul

    December 18th, 2013 at 4:35 am

    Renfield – I definitely agree on “Stoker”, at least as far as its quality goes. As far as a piece of work by this particular director, I don’t know how it holds up as I have no point of comparison.

    I’m gonna take a quick moment here to shamelessly plug the thing I’m doing in the forums right now, which is basically a short review of each of the thirty-three films I’ve seen in the cinema this year, plus some other movie-related stuff. (Last year it was sixty-seven, including eleven in January alone; but then last year was IMO the best year of film in my lifetime.) Ever since last year started off so great, I’ve started keeping a diary of every movie I see so that I can remember what it was. With Vern’s blessing (I checked with him first and he was kind enough to let me do it) I’m posting those edited notes in the forums as a “year-end review”. If anybody wants to read or comment or anything then please do – that’s the whole reason I’m writing it on this site instead of on some random blog that I’d set up. I know that if any of you guys are interested enough to read it or post your opinions then you’ll be intelligent and rational about it. Plus it gives everybody who’s of the “Paul is completely insane” opinion a reality check – or possibly some extra evidence to support them. I’m fine either way!

  25. Vern — Aha, just remembered how it all unfolds. You’re right, of course.

  26. Its funny that you mention Infernal Affairs. See, I always thought that Spike Lee should have done Infernal Affairs. They could have set it in Los Angeles and made the whole thing about the relationship between the police, the gangs and the black community. Part of what made Infernal Affairs work (and I’d say this about a lot of HK gangster films) is the unique relationship that the gangs have in that society and especially towards the film industry. That doesn’t exist in LA, but there have been a long history of explosive racial tensions there seldom explored by the entertainment industry that inhabits the same city. Of course, good luck finding funding for something like that. The Departed’s Boston setting always felt less to me like it was an organic fit for the material and more like they were cashing in on that fascination the culture seemed to have with Southie in the mid-aughts, and ended up creating a remake that felt cynical and hollow compared to the pulp-empathetic stance of the original. If anyone its Scorsese, with his feeling for white class resentment and taste for baroque visual expression, should have directed the Oldboy remake.

  27. The Original... Paul

    December 19th, 2013 at 3:45 am

    See, I thought “The Departed” was the film Scorcese makes when he and his cast (except Wahlberg, who at least looked like he was trying SOMETHING) are putting in zero effort whatsoever. I didn’t think it looked as good as the film it was remaking (I’m really not a fan of the “dusty yellow” cinematography – I much prefer the “cold steel” look of the original). This is what I didn’t get from it, at all:

    “I know some people still dislike that movie on the basis of it not being INFERNAL AFFAIRS, but the thing is, Scorsese and his writers took that great story and put it in this very specific world of Boston organized crime and police culture. Alot of what we love about that movie has nothing to do with INFERNAL AFFAIRS, because it has to do with the language and details of the region they moved it to. It’s an American texture.”

    …Was it? I could barely get through “The Departed” as it was, and I certainly don’t recall anything like this about it.

  28. THE DEPARTED is probably one of the alltime greatest american remakes of alltime and part of that is what Vern mentioned. It was translated into an american context and became its own movie, whereas THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTO was completely redundant and weird by more or less filming the exact movie all over again in Sweden but with a more international cast. Nobody in Sweden speaks english as their primary language,meanwhile swedish is being randomly used in the background. It is so fucking weird and the movie is not all that great as a result. Just a rehash.

  29. If the point of a remake is the language, why just don’t dub the original?

  30. Spike Lee’s Oldboy is decent, but Park Chan-wook found the perfet tone and style for the original film. The remake kind of has a low-rent feel at times. Brolin is very good but Copley’s performance is bizarre, and his silent badass bodyguard is given a really eye-catching look but barely has anything to do, even when compared to her counterpart in the original. I enjoyed the big fight scene to some degree, but it may not have been the best move to try to recreate/update it. It actually looks far less convincing than the original since the movements look more mechanical and it’s more obvious about guys just standing there doing nothing while Brolin fights someone. It was a smart choice in the original to show how scared these guys were against Oh Dae-su, so at least it looked like some of them were hanging back to avoid being the next ones to get smashed in the face. I did like the changes to the ending, though; it’s still quite sad, of course, but there is also some brightness there that ends things on a nice emotional note. I just wish I could have seen how Spike’s original cut looked.

    Did the studio have no confidence in this? It took such a long time for this get to get made and there’s a lot of talent involved, but then it just got dumped into theatres after being inexplicably pushed from an October release date to Thanksgiving.

    About The Departed, was that scene between Costello’s gang and the Chinese supposed to be an example of a remake paying homage to the original film? I’ve always been curious about that scene because it might have the most laughable, awkward depiction of Chinese gangsters I’ve ever seen. They’re basically just there to be punchlines for Costello’s laundry and dick jokes. Apparently the leader (played by the Conan O’brien show’s Asian male escort Toshi) was speaking nonsensical Cantonese, but that kind of thing happens often in movies with snippets of foreign languages.

  31. So, basically the movie is an elaborate retelling of the old Aristocrats joke?

  32. The Original... Paul

    December 19th, 2013 at 11:02 am


    “THE DEPARTED is probably one of the alltime greatest american remakes of alltime”

    See, this is one of those situations where somebody just doesn’t “get” a film. Only instead of with “Hostel”, which I think most people don’t understand, in this case it’s the other way around and I’m the guy who doesn’t “get it”. I clearly don’t see what’s good about “The Departed”. I could barely get through it; it bored me to tears. I thought there were a ridiculous number of incredibly talented people involved in the making of that film, and every single one of them seemed to be putting in the bare minimum of effort to actually get the thing done. (With the exception of Wahlberg, I thought he was good.) I thought Jack Nicholson was just playing Jack Nicholson if he happened to be a gangster boss, whereas Leo gave one of his least memorable performances. I thought the locations looked much the same as those in “Infernal Affairs”, except with the cold blue steely look of the original movie replaced by a dusty yellow sheen (which I’m absolutely not a fan of – I thought it was actually kind of off-putting. It’s not a good-looking film!)

    I mean, it’s Scorcese: the direction’s going to be first-rate no matter how dull the subject matter, so I’ve no complaints on that score. I just couldn’t find any point to it. And that’s not just because I love “Infernal Affairs” – I couldn’t see any point to it regardless. I didn’t get the impression that anybody really involved in its making cared about it, so I wasn’t sure why I should. Clearly people do like this film.. I’d just like to know why that is, because I’m not seeing it.

  33. This is one of your best reviews in a while Vern. I’m going to tell people that they can just read this instead of seeing the movie, which I didn’t think was very good.

    First of all I love how perfect your throwaway line about Brolin playing a Nick Nolte character is. It hadn’t even occurred to me but it’s totally true, and Brolin does have a little bit of a Nolte Jr thing going on to boot.

    Sharlto & Brolin both felt to me like actors who weren’t being directed – guys who kept amping up their performances without much guidance as to where they should pitch it. I also liked Sharlto in ELYSIUM but couldn’t take him in this, he just couldn’t make that character work (and his accent kept slipping too). Brolin’s a great actor and he has some great moments in this, but I thought he was a little too unrestrained with the whole brutal/insane caveman thing at times.

    “There’s almost no humor in Lee’s version, although I did chuckle a little at the worst moment, when Brolin found out the big twist and dropped to his knees in anguish as the music soared. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. Copley holds his arms out and looks up like he’s soaking in the light of God. It’s just too much.”

    That’s a classic Spike moment, like the end of Jungle Fever. One scene that got an unintentional laugh out of me was during the flashback of the multiple murder, where as soon as Young Sharlto sees his dad he starts eagerly unbuckling his pants like they’re gonna have sex right there in the atrium, in the middle of the day while everyone else is home.

    I’m a big Spike fan and I was really looking forward to this movie. I actually thought it did have his fingerprints all over it in terms of style and tone and little touches here and there, but somehow it still felt really impersonal. I think one mistake was making it in New Orleans instead of New York. First of all it’s just more of a New York kind of story. And second of all nobody makes NYC movies like Spike – he has a great feel for the texture of the city. I would’ve liked to see his full version, though who knows if it would’ve been better. The movie we got had all the ingredients to be a trashy good time but somehow just didn’t work.

    As for the big fight, it’s what I was looking forward to more than anything since “long unbroken fight scene” is basically my favorite kind of thing in the world. I dug it, but I thought it was hampered a little by the henchmen moving around like they were doing West Side Story. Apparently Brolin broke down crying after the 7th straight take they shot of that sequence, which just makes it even more aggravating that the studio saw fit to hack it apart.

    I will say that I liked the ending a lot.

  34. I feel like this was clearly a Spike Lee movie because all of the characters who would be de facto white, were instead Black and proud. Whereas a film by a White director will make the Black guy a judge/doctor/professor/sergeant – some job that shows authority and inclusion without actually being part of the plot – Lee makes the billionaire success story who represents everything Joe is not into a dark-skinned Black man. Too, the first images of sexual desire and virility come when Joe masturbates to a Black model in a workout video. Later, it is a White model, but this version is shown to be less sexually appealing. Also, the history montage skips focuses intently on GWB’s presidency and Katrina. No film by a White director would exclude 9/11 but include multiple, multiple shots of Katrina and drowning Blacks.

    Spike really comes alive in this movie when he treats it like an adaptation of Oldboy, by way of the chapter in The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley where X talks about his work as a driver for an escort company and all of the various sexual depravities of the White Man.

    Joe isn’t blue-eyed, but Lee clearly enjoys the license of showing White Men acting like animalistic, base animals.

    The whole thing is tinged with this sense of Joe’s character being forced into the position of so many Black men in America. He is picked up off the street for no reason, then held in a cell for 20 years and when he gets out, all he knows is violence, so he very quickly ends up back in that cage.

    I really want to see Lee’s full cut because his version has strands of some very interesting commentary about Uncle Tom, Jim Crow, learned obedience and the plight of the habitual criminal.

  35. Tawdry “Lee clearly enjoys the license of showing White Men acting like animalistic, base animals.”

    This is also evidenced in Lee’s SUMMER OF SAM. From memory there are no main black characters, but the white folk all come unravelled through fear of what serial killer Sam is up to in their neighbourhood.

    Sam is literally killing people, but the white folk are self-destructing as well as destroying each other lives, like Leguizamo convincing his wife Sorvino to go to a swingers party, and it ends up destroying their marriage.

  36. To be clear, I don’t think it is *bad* for Lee to be doing this. His art is largely a reaction to American culture’s Eurocentricism. Whereas, a White filmmaker creating a work designed to show Blacks as base and animalistic would be pretty grotesque (though, I think that movie is made fairly regularly, if unintentionally) Lee’s version is political, casting a J’acusse at the history of cultural appropriation. From Chuck Berry’s guitar licks on down.

    That said, I’m not totally sure how i feel about Lee in relation to Asian characters or women in general. In Oldboy you get the worst of both with the villain’s Dragon Lady sidekick. The movie is Korean…not Japanese (even if the Manga is the latter). That’s not even the right Asian Stereotype!

  37. I know Lee’s associated with making films about blacks but if you look back he seems to have incorporated a lot of different ethnic groups into his boiling pot, DO THE RIGHT THING being the best and most obvious example. Blacks, Whites, Italians, probably others I can’t remember.

    I would say his films are concerned mainly with the social and political states of all of these different groups. He can’t be accused of neglecting to have a look at a lot of different races. Look at the focus and perspective of his films as diverse as MALCOM X(Black/American politics) and THE 25TH HOUR(Irish/American guilt and anger post 9/11).If Lee’s gonna be accused of being exclusive then the mirror monologue by Norton takes a swipe at everyone just for good measure.

    I love Tarantino but I understand why Lee got upset with him about his use of the n word in his films. QT makes genre films(bloody great ones) but they don’t aim to address racial or political themes so much as he likes to riff on stereotypes and embellish loved genres with his own movie lovers zeal. You would never call QT a deep message film maker and I don’t think he’s looking for that title either.

    So for Lee to call him out on his n word usage is fair, since Lee mostly aims for the ISSUE. I love them both, just for different reasons.

  38. I agree with Lee re: Django’s script. It’s fine for a character to use “the-n-word” as many times as the narrative requires, but when that spills over into the action lines and descriptions…it gets harder to accept.

  39. Is this another one of those times where I think the movie is entirely about one thing and everybody else doesn’t think that “thing” is even peripherally present?

  40. Tawdry— I don’t know if one could characterize it as being “entirely about one thing”. But if I had to attempt to pinpoint its modus operandi, I’d say it’s this: revenge is the journey and absolution is the destination.

    I like Spike’s version, and I’m sorry it’s tanking ($4 million worldwide gross from a budget of $30 million). I’m still baffled as to why it was released the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Had it been released anytime in September, I think it would’ve had a fighting chance at the box office.

  41. Tawdry – I never would have picked out those threads (to be fair you note that they seem to be part of a larger fabric that may have been partially excised) but I’m convinced. How does the villain’s background and story play into it?

    Paul – The Departed is a film by a bunch of has-beens about a bunch of has-beens. The mob isn’t glamorous, it’s just a bunch of guys hanging around in gloomy warehouses. File it next to “Catch Me if You Can” under the “latter day work by a great director finding the perfect vehicle to reflect upon their career”. Also, Nicholson imitating a literal rat is one of the most priceless images of his career.

  42. The Original... Paul

    December 21st, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Renfield – that aspect of it hadn’t occurred to me, I have to admit. I’m not totally averse to giving “The Departed” a second shot… “X3” was on TV the other day and I actually thought it was better than I’d given it credit for (although still not “good”). It still has all of the problems that I thought it had, but they didn’t ruin the movie for me as much as I remember them having done the first time. That said, the exact opposite happened with “Out of Sight”, which I re-watched on the urging of pretty much everybody here, so these things cut both ways.

  43. One very common slur used against any immigrant or minority group is a claim that they are ‘sexually immoral’ or more prone to rape than are the dominant group. You see this in the Mandingo stereotype of Black men, the depiction of Asian and Indian women as ‘exotically sexual” and Asian and Indian men as either completely neutered, or else ineffectual sexual predators.

    You’ve certainly heard arguments, even ones made today that amount to little more than, “They’re stealing our White women!”

    SPOILERS for Oldboy ’13

    Lee is flipping this on its’ head by showing a rich, White, aristocratic family as the most insanely depraved thing possible. The father is raping everyone in his family, and the kids are totally into it! The abject absurdity of this scene throwing into relief all the times you’ve seen similarly outlandish depictions of foreign or minority sexuality.

  44. “I swear to God and eight white motherfuckin’ people!”

    That was Cinque Lee in the poster! I did have a momentary flash to Mystery Train, but instantly dismissed it until Gabe mentioned it up there. Too bad Screamin’ Jay Hawkins isn’t around for a cameo.

    This was okay as remakes go. Some good stuff. The last shot was pretty good. The tv studio setup was a bit silly. I must have blinked when Brolin met the octopus. Missed some of the cool stuff from the original, like telling the suicidal guy his story at the start and then seeing him land on a car after diving off the roof in the background.

    I liked how the hammer fight started with Brolin stepping into frame and then a pause before the action, but this business of cutting from the third crowd of fighters to a bunch of bodies? Shite. Show us the fight!

  45. Hey guys, did you see the trailer for DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS?


    Man, gotta love that even as the budgets go down and he hasn’t really had quite a home run in a long time, Spike stays ambitious. This one has the potential to be really cool, even with the recent oversaturation of indie auteur darlings doing arty vampire films (Jarmusch, Neil Jordan, now Spike Lee). Love the intensity of the trailer, though some of the dialogue seems a little on-the-nose and I’m not loving the looks-like-digital-video look of some of the shots.

  46. Hey, whaddaya know, I actually kinda of liked this one. All the complaints about it are valid, but they didn’t really derail the experience. It has a weird, exaggerated tone juxtaposed with a vividly “real” world, which makes it somehow more grotesque and feverish, I don’t know that I’ve seen anything quite like it before. It’s also reassuring to see that Lee still absolutely has his cinematic mojo working, making this look effortless and visually intriguing all the way through. Some of RED HOOK SUMMER looks (deliberately?) really amateurish and stagey, and I was afraid age was taking the guy’s edge. Looks like not.

    I guess I’m not surprised that it didn’t set the world on fire. I mean, who exactly was this for? The only people who would possibly have been into it already saw the original almost a decade ago. It’s hard to get around the fact that it’s a not-quite-as-good version of a beloved movie which already exists in a near-perfect state and has no need whatsoever of a remake. Similar to LET ME IN that way. But I was able to get past that and enjoy it anyway, and would definitely watch the fuck out of an extended version should one ever be offered. For something which should never have been made to begin with, I consider that an unmitigated success.

  47. Remember when OLGBOY was going to be, of all things, a Spielberg directed Will Smith vehicle?

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