Old Boy (2013)

*. In my notes on Oldboy I mentioned my confusion as to why it was so quickly seized upon as a project ripe for adaptation. While a good movie, something about its sensibility seemed distinctly other, or at least outside a North American audience’s comfort zone. Why remake it then?
*. Why indeed. But, here we are.
*. I can think of maybe only one creative change that is an improvement on the original. That is the ending. I’m sure many people would disagree, but I like the idea of Joe checking himself back in to the Heartbreak Hotel. I thought the ending of the original was too obscure, and I never bought all the hypnosis stuff. Of course, the ending here was probably part of what sank the film at the box office, but despite it’s apparent bleakness it does affirm the American gospel that there’s no problem a lot of money can’t solve.
*. Aside from the ending, nothing else measures up. This goes for little things as well as big. An example of the former being the ants Dae-su Oh imagines crawling out of his skin in the original, and which are genuinely creepy and fit his state of mental breakdown, here turning into the apparently real pet mouse Joe has which is served up to him, with its babies, à la What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Who thought that was a change for the better?
*. A bigger example is the torture of the keeper. Who can forget the way that claw hammer gets put to use on the keeper’s teeth in the original? That scene has become a classic. I suppose there was a feeling that they didn’t want to just do the same thing again, especially with such a well-known sequence, but what they came up with as a replacement was lame. Basically Joe cuts a necklace into Chaney’s skin and then shakes some salt into the wounds. Chaney seems more angry than in pain.
*. Even the back story is sanitized. The incest in the original felt wrong in a way that what’s on display here doesn’t. Is it because the aristocratic Pryce family just seems so weird from the start? The decadent Brit is a cliché, and given the wardrobe Sharlto Copley affects we can’t be surprised at any merely sexual eccentricities. And don’t get me started on his hot ninja bodyguard. Is this a Bond movie?
*. Speaking of eccentric wardrobe, what’s up with Chaney’s outfit? Or his mohawk? Or his lip band? Was this really a character where they wanted to push the envelope on weird so far? It’s hard to take him seriously. I get the impression Jackson likes to play these odd types (witness his lisping Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which came out around the same time). But someone needed to pull him back on this one.
*. The weakness of the bad guys offsets what are a couple of good performances from Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. There were a lot of other names attached to these parts in the early stages of development, but I think they ended up with a good pairing. Brolin looks suitably pale and weather-beaten, while Olsen is convincingly vulnerable and strung-out. It’s a shame they couldn’t have been in a better movie.
*. I find it curious that, as in the first film, the character of Joe’s friend (“Chucky” here, played by Michael Imperioli) seems to be at least as culpable as Joe in unwinding the Pryce family’s dark secret, but doesn’t figure into the scheme of vengeance at all. In both films he is killed almost incidentally, as collateral damage. Presumably if he’d kept his mouth shut he’d have been left alive. Why?
*. It’s not a terrible movie, but it looks bad when making the inevitable comparison. It has none of the visual interest or emotional impact of the original. The bad guys, as mentioned, are made to appear ridiculous. Despite being shorter it seems longer. I think getting rid of so much of the narration hurts. Apparently the studio made extensive cuts to Lee’s preferred version, but given the poor pacing and other flaws I’m not sure an extra 30 minutes of running time would have helped. More would likely not mean better.


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