Another Hollywood Remake: Oldboy

by Latoya Peterson

Director Chan-Wook Park shocked the hell out of South Korean audiences in 2003, with his theatrical release Oldboy, the second film in the disturbing The Vengence trilogy.

Now, dear readers, I hate horror movies but I love psychological thrillers. Hence, I watched Oldboy. And while I really enjoyed the movie, it is definitely *not* for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. So, imagine my surprise while perusing Dramabeans to see a post describing how Will Smith is going to star in the US remake.

Javabeans, main poster on the blog, is not pleased.

The bastardization of Korean films by Hollywood is annoying, but I can close my eyes and forget about them because they have largely failed to make any sort of impact.

But this upsets me, and not because I’m protective of Oldboy or anything particular to the film itself. Although I do think they’ve picked an ambitious project, it’s more that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What pisses me off is that there’s this growing sense that somehow Hollywood is the end-all and be-all of everything, EVAR, and that somehow everything good must be purchased and repackaged and buffed and relabeled with the Hollywood stamp. God, Hollywood, YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUT YOUR THUMB IN EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN PIE.

Can’t you leave some things alone? Why do you always have to wave your dick in everyone’s face and assume we will marvel at its size? Is that crude? Well, I find your brash cultural insensitivity crude. It’s not the remaking itself that I take issue with — nothing intrinsically wrong with adaptations of stories — but the arrogant, careless attitude with which you scour the international markets for more carcasses to pick to feed your own bloated ego. Why do you seem to think that nothing is complete until you have co-opted it for your own commercial gain?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Better yet, if it ain’t broke, DON’T BREAK IT.

Suddenly, the conversation over there got a lot more interesting. Now, I have enjoyed a great many films from overseas and I understand a lot of the frustration when Hollywood decides to remake a movie – generally speaking, they fuck it up. While The Departed was a decent remake (and it was received well – the theater I watched it in gave a standing ovation to the credits) Infernal Affairs (the original) is the better movie. I could write volumes on the difference between the emotional mood and the treatment of the characters in each film, but suffice it to say, I enjoy a lot of complexity in characters – something that tends to get stripped out in the Hollywood versions.

However, javabeans post touched on more than just irritation at a potentially shoddy remake – the comments section quickly became a discussion of the globalization of media and cultural borrowing.

annonymous – Nov 7, 2008 at 12:32 pm

well I dunno. While I do agree that the majority of these Korean remakes (or any other remake of a foreign media) have been pretty bad I don’t think it’s to the extent that has made you so mad. Most likely a lot of the people involved in putting out these movies are out there just to make an easy buck, but I’m sure that some of the creative staff honestly just wants to share a good story to an audience who may not have heard or will even had a chance to see the original and because of that maybe these people will be encouraged to see the original. That’s what happened to me when I saw “Shall we dance?”

Granted the other movies were flops (the originals weren’t that great either imo), but I think that if people like Steven Spielberg and Will Smith do get involved with this project, it will be given the due respect and effort that these other movies lacked. Ugly Betty is a remake too and I love that show to bits and pieces (and although I never saw the original I wish I could), I don’t really see a show like Ugly Betty being an ugly thing that Hollywood has made to show the world it’s better than anything else. And let’s not forget that Old Boy is based off a Japanese manga. I’m sure a lot of manga purists probably didn’t appreciate it being adapted into a movie when it first came out in Korea.

I plan on keeping an open mind and treating these remakes on a case by case basis. The remakes aren’t being made by the same people everytime so I don’t think it’s really fair to write off something that could potentially be really good.

Ivuson – Nov 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm

NOW you notice!?!



But in all seriousness this isn’t anything new. Hollywoods been hijacking films ever since there has been a Hollywood. They are sooooooo creativity starved that most films that come out these days are either remakes of foreign films or cannibalized versions of their OWN earlier films. All the hacks in Hollywood see something good and instantaneously think that they can do it bigger AND better.

Let’s look at Will Smith(40 btw) for a small microcosm of how desperate Hollywood is for material. He alone has been in two remakes, two sequels, and three based on true story films. The lack of originality is palpable.

The fact that they’re now stealing from Korean films as well, if anything, is a sign of how strong the Hallyu movement has become. The sincerest form of flattery is imitation and there is no bigger “flatterer” than Hollywood.

18 Liv – Nov 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm

If Hollywood ever credited the markets that they stol…. AHEM borrowed their ideas from, so that people could watch the (infinitely better) original and at least give a chance to the original actors to get more international exposure too, I wouldnt be as irritated by their bastardi.. AHEM remakes. However, since they present every idea …”taken” from an international market as their own super original clever cute idea that our wonderful screenwriters came up with, its a lose lose situation all around. The original actors dont get credit or exposure, the original idea loses reputation/credit due to being associated with the remade flop, and the remake…sucks. If you notice though, when they are remaking films from the American market, credit is always given where its due – in fact, the American originals often experience renewed popularity because people say “hmmm I’ll watch the original just to make sure it wasnt as crap as the remake”……

Alysha – Nov 7, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Why does Hollywood remake everything?

It’s not Hollywood that is remaking everything for a profit, it’s the dumb American audience. I won’t speak for us all, but the majority of English speaking Americans don’t feel like sitting in a theater for an hour and a half having to read subtitles or spend time thinking about the hidden meaning in many foreign films. They go for one to two hours of entertainment, end point.

It’s lame that Hollywood releases soo many remakes a year, but like someone above has already stated, it’s been like that since the beginning of “Hollywood”. But as every movie lover already knows, the original will ALWAYS be superior to the remake, and many times there are people that didn’t even know the new movie was a remake and in turn it sheds light on the original, bringing in a completely new audience to love and adore the first film.

Lisa – Nov 7, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Okay, this is going to sound racist, but it’s not how I mean it.

One of the most superb moments in Old Boy is that realization at the end of the movie (don’t want to spoil anything so won’t be specific)… which is in part such a surprise because of the very amazing casting job done to, um, make it less obvious… as in, the girl in the movie doesn’t automatically trigger you to think she’s a certain age, or has a certain resemblance to anyone else in the movie.

I know this is going to sound bad, but seriously, Will Smith and a 20 something african-american girl is going to be super obvious…I feel like I would automatically make the association (I’m not saying black people look alike at all, but they have to strike a casting balance between plausible resemblance and not obvious resemblance… and race is still such a huge issue in America, so I think it would just be blatant).

also… Old Boy is like, a cinematic and philosophical masterpiece in a multi-dimensional sense… remaking it would be pointless and blatant opportunism

belleza – Nov 7, 2008 at 2:34 pm

It bothers everybody when Hollywood remakes Asian product, but it doesn’t bother anybody when China, Korea, and Japan repeatedly makes each other product, or when C/J/K-pop remakes each other country’s (and America’s) music? Where was everybody when Japan remade My Sassy Girl? How would people feel if we say that Hana Yori Dango shouldn’t be made into a Korean show because it’s a JAPANESE story?!? Or when Korea remade Grey’s Anatomy and CSI, where was the outcry there?

And what about that Hollywood has remade product from the UK, France, and other countries for 50 years? Should I avoid the Magnificent Seven, because it ain’t as good as Seven Samurai? Should I stop watching American Idol because it’s a remake of another country’s show. Where was everybody when Abre Los Ojos was remade with Tom Cruise? Or when Steven Soderbergh remade Tartovsky’s Solaris, one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time?

As for the Departed . . . in some ways, it improved on the original concept. The writing in the Departed perfectly, perfectly represents the ethnography of working class Boston, which itself is still a rare subject in American cinema. The script was hilarious. Leonardo Dicaprio’s shell-shocked character better reflects the psychological reality of undercover work among truly dangerous, despicable people. Finally, one of the greatest influences on HK hard-boiled cinema happened to be Martin Scorsese.

I’m sure Oldboiiiii will suck. If there was to be a remake, it would be made by Haneke or Von trier. Steven Speilburg is completely, completely wrong for the project. Completely. Wrong.

“And as Shaenna said, why not just play the original? Maybe this is still difficult in America.”

There’s a limited audience (mostly in urban places) for foreign cinema in America. However, Korean cinema (esp. post-Oldboy) is actually getting a lot of distribution here. (And Korean horror is now bigger than Japanese horro at your local Blockbuster. Hello Kobe!! 😉 )

Remakes actually improves the visibility of the domestic product, and it creates curiosity. Also, the domestic country (in this case, Korea) usually view it as flattering as well as a way to help promote their work overseas.

“Here in Europe, people have been watching translated american movies for very long.”

That’s even true for China/TW/HK audience and Chinese movies. I was used to it until I started watching foreign films in college; now it’s hard to go back. In fact, it was only relatively recent (say the last 30 years) that most non-Western countries were showing domestic and foreign movies where the audio wasn’t overdubbed.

39 javabeans – Nov 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm
I both agree and disagree with belleza.

First, the superfluous remakes are always annoying whether they are inter-Asian or not. I think the inter-Asian ones have a general appreciation for the originals that Hollywood doesn’t, however, and many of the key cultural elements show better potential for being preserved.

And just because they’re common doesn’t mean I have to like ‘em or can’t be annoyed when another one comes along. “It’s not new, so don’t complain now” has never been an argument that flies with me.

gallivanter – Nov 7, 2008 at 7:23 pm

I really feel like we’re starting to get to the point of entertainment globalization in America. YES it sucks–a lot–that Hollywood is remaking Oldboy, BUT I just can’t see them continuing to do on such a regular basis, 5, 10 years in the future. Look at all us. Who knows how many people visit this blog to discuss Kdramas each day. A LOT. And there’s even more over at Soompi and D-Addicts. The drama group has grown SO much in the last 5 years. It’s not the size of Anime addicts, but it’s getting up there.

In Seattle, my hometown, the number of foreign films to come here has grown tremendously. We host a foreign film festival every year and if you want tickets, you have to buy them in the first couple days now. Everything sells out. Even the more mainstream theatres in the city has at least one or two foreign films now. Americans are slowly coming around to the idea of “foreignness” in mainstream culture. It’s going to take time, yes, but I think we will get there.

I’m going to stop here, but the conversation continued for quite a bit over on Dramabeans.

At any rate, I’ll be keeping tabs on this Will Smith remake, and will definitely add an in a post on cinema to our future discussions on appropriation.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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