May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 6, 2011
Hollywood’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s OldBoy has been percolating for several years now. Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct Will Smith in the lead role, but earlier this year, it was announced that Spike Lee would be directing Josh Brolin based on Mark Protosevich’s screenplay. While Lee struck many as a more appropriate directorial choice than Spielberg, one question still lingered: would Hollywood “wuss out” and deliver a cleaner, more sanitized version of the film?
Park’s OldBoy is an extremely dark and disturbing exploration of revenge and the destructive effects it has on those who seek it, their targets, and even innocent bystanders. It’s also an incredibly stylish, well-executed film boasting searing performances (especially from lead Choi Min-Sik), immaculate set-pieces, and some stunning images. Even so, it’s still an unsurprisingly divisive film. Many were put off by its extremes — in his infamous review, Rex Reed called it “a noxious helping of Korean Grand Guignol as pointless as it is shocking” — but there were many others, myself included, who found it an absorbing, even virtuosic film that ultimately transcended its exploitative/genre origins.
However, it appears that any concerns regarding Hollywood’s spinelessness may be unfounded. In a recent interview, OldBoy‘s producer Roy Lee was asked about the film’s ending. His reply:
The ending will be something that the audiences will all be…especially the fans of the original will be very happy with. In fact, some may consider it to be a bit darker.
This led The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage to, somewhat cheekily, muse on what a darker ending for the film might look like (article contains spoilers).
I found Lee’s statement troubling. It seemed to imply that the only way to appeal to fans of the original OldBoy required going to a darker place — as if the darkness alone was what made the original so great and popular. Adding a darker ending isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. However, taken at face value, such a sentiment seems to ignore that the strength of Park’s film was that, regardless of how dark and violent it got, it never let the audience thrill to the on-screen nastiness. It never let the audience off the hook.
One of the film’s most famous sequences is a long fight scene in which the film’s “hero”, a man named Oh Daesu, takes on a group of thugs in a hallway with just a hammer. As I wrote in my OldBoy review for Opus:
Shot in one, continuous tracking shot, Daesu and the gang go at it, and as the camera refuses to cut away, it becomes that much more torturous and draining to watch. This is a far cry from the hyperstylized bloodshed of the Kill Bill movies. Violence is never depicted as a thrilling thing, but as a necessary thing for Daesu, if only because that’s all he has left.
Here, Park’s display of violence, stylish though it may be, actually impresses on the viewer the real impact of the violence as opposed to letting them enjoy it as an adrenaline-pumping action scene. It may begin in a thrilling enough manner, but by the scene’s end, it’s pathetic how Daesu and the bad guys grasp for each other, curses coming out between gasping breaths and moans of pain, the floor covered with blood and bodies. Gone is any sense of a glorious, action-packed rampage. All that’s left is broken humanity. Later in the same review, I wrote:
Whenever Daesu gets a chance to lash out at his captors, it isn’t with an adrenaline rush but rather a sad sigh that things seemed almost fated to turn out this way. Early in the movie, Daesu wonders if he’ll ever be able to leave the “Monster” behind. But by the movie’s end, Daesu has lost a part of himself, literally and figuratively.
Then there’s the film’s ending, which I won’t discuss at length here except to say that I’m not sure how much darker you can get in that final sequence without the film going off the rails and descending into self-indulgent parody. That, or completely losing the point of Park’s film, which was deconstructing the idea of revenge to reveal it for the sad, depraved thing that it is, rather than some cinematic fantasy. In an article regarding his “Vengeance” triology — which includes Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance — Park had this to say about his trilogy’s theme:
My view of vengeance hasn’t changed since I started the trilogy five years ago… I still think it is the most foolish thing you can do. Revenge will do nothing to bring back what you have lost. It’s quite a simple concept, even children understand it, but adults, and sometimes even whole states, seem compelled to engage in these acts of vengeance.
It’s a keen observation, and one that hopefully Spike Lee et al. take to heart if and when they plumb the depths that Park Chan-Wook chose to avoid.