Oldboy and The Great Wide Cultural Divide

Man, those Goonies REALLY didn’t age well.

Warning and all that bullshit: this review contains massive spoilers. So, if you read past this paragraph I’m going to assume you’ve seen either the OG Old Boy or the Spike Lee Joint of Oldboy. If you haven’t seen either, and you keep reading, I don’t want to hear you bitching and whining about how I spoiled the plot. Here. I’ll throw in a picture of a baby hedgehog while you run away.


Still here? Cool, welcome aboard. Right off the bat, I love Oldboy. The original Korean film, that is. It’s a slick little thriller that’s as funny as it is tense. It’s a damn great film so the idea of an American remake should have been something I was against on principle.

Yet, to be honest, I’m kind of ok with foreign remakes. Sometimes idiot viewers won’t watch things with subtitles. And there’s a dearth of great foreign films that average Americans should watch. You know, if they weren’t stupid and could tolerate subtitles. So, yeah, it’s fine by me when a foreign film crosses over. But this new Oldboy proves that, sometimes, movies can’t bridge that cultural gap.

The original Oldboy is very much a product of it’s country. The women of Korea are more submissive than here in America. Guns are banned there. Honor and pride aren’t as important to Americans. And suicide is a rampant problem throughout South Korea. All of these things work to make Oldboy the plot possible.

The plot simply couldn’t work if Mi-Do happened to be a young girl in America. She’d straight up think that Dae-su is a crazy person. And she’d be right. And she’d run away. And the plot would end right there. No incest would occur. The female in the new version, Marie played by Olson Twin Little Sister, isn’t a push over like Mi-Do. She’s a bleeding heart with a drug addiction. That’s how they try and play off her connection to the man, Joe played by Goonie Baby Brolin. She wants to help him because she’s been in tough spots before.

On one hand, it’s a fairly effective way to sidestep such a gender difference in cultures. I might even be ok with it if the other changes gelled like they should have. But, instead, it’s just one giant dump on a classic film.

For instance, not that I want guns. Because guns generally make any action scene boring as fuck. Case in point: watch OG Oldboy. Those action shots hum along with only a hammer in sight. The new one barely uses guns either. But it doesn’t make any fucking sense. It’s ‘Merica, damn it. Goonie Baby Brolin should be blasting everyone in sight if he’s as angry as the script says.

And, finally, onto the incest. OG Oldboy had the balls to commit to the idea of a father sleeping with his daughter. It was creepy. And horrible. And it made for a hell of an ambiguous ending. Americans, however, don’t do well with incest or ambiguity. So, instead of sticking the landing, Spike Lee pounds home a rather obvious “incest is wrong” moral that robs the film of any teeth it had.

Look, I’m not going to say the Oldboy remake is horrible. It’s not. It’s competent and fairly lean. But, what I will say, is that everything that makes Oldboy special isn’t in the remake because American audiences can’t handle things that don’t involve unicorns farting rainbows. And, as such, the Oldboy remake becomes another soulless experiment another American movie studio.

Grade: D-