One of the most crazily violent, and just plain crazy, movies I’ve seen is Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, a classic of South Korean action cinema from 2003. It’s a twisted story of torture and revenge, loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo, with some of the most memorable action sequences you’ll see (the hammer!). And now it’s been remade in English by Spike Lee, which, if you’ve seen Inside Man, actually makes a lot of sense. Lee isn’t known for action movies, but Inside Man is stylish and engrossing—it’s one of those “have to watch it if it’s on TV” movies—and he handles the suspense and thriller elements well. Lee isn’t the obvious choice, but he’s an interesting one.
My question about his remake, though, is how it differs from the original. If you’re going to remake a foreign film into an English version, you have to justify it by telling the story in a distinctive way and bringing a new perspective to what’s already been done. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for instance, failed to do this because it was just a facsimile of the Swedish original, but in English. But the American adaptation of The Bridge, while many of you emailed to argue the Danish original was better, succeeds in reinterpreting the story through the perspective of the US/Mexico border, with its unique ecosystem of corruption and cartels. The Bridge feels like its own thing, but Dragon Tattoo only ever felt like a knock-off.
I’m getting strong knock-off vibes from the first Oldboy trailer. It’s a combination of visuals recycled from Park’s original film—like that hammer shot—and also the lack of Lee’s unique perspective. Lee has a signature style, but this looks like it could’ve been directed by anyone who’s worked on the Saw franchise. It’s just two and a half minutes—the final film could be the most Spike Lee thing ever—but I’m a little thrown by how rote this seems. I would totally be down to see Spike Lee’s take on South Korean revenge flicks, but I’m not sure this is that film.