14th Feb2014

An Open Letter to Spike Lee

by Guest

[Editors Note: Writer/director Pearry Teo (Necromentia, Witchville, Bedlam Stories) pens this open letter to director Spike Lee regarding his remake of Chan-Woo Park’s masterpiece, OldBoy]

 

Dear Spike Lee,

When I was a young kid, at about 15 years old, I came across one of your masterpieces called Malcolm X. I loved that movie so much, it was the first cap I bought… with an X on it. Trust me, in high school, most people raised an eye brow when an asian kid wore a Malcolm X hat. But I did love the movie, and I was definitely wooed by your filmmaking skills to portray such a great man. Eventually, I grew up and started making my own films. One of the highlights and inspiration to focus on story telling was Chan-Wook Park’s OldBoy. Now, what a masterpiece it is. Then I heard you were remaking OldBoy… and I didn’t know how to process it.

NOW, I’m not writing this letter to you as a filmmaker. For god knows, you have achieved more and have made films I will never be able to compare to. But I’m writing to you as a fan… a fan of Chan Wook Park.

You see, you completely missed the point of OldBoy. From the opening, your main character is telling his ex-wife how he did not care a bit about her or his daughter. Was your intention for us to hate the character? Because you succeeded. But then you missed out why we are shocked by the events of Choi Min-Sik’s character, Oh Dae-Su. Because he LOVED his daughter and because he missed on her birthday party because he got drunk. Now Brolin’s character, Doucett, bought his daughter a birthday present by choosing something random off the streets, versus Oh Dae-Su who took pride in his daughter’s present (even wore it to show how cool it is).

See, Oh Dae-Su / Doucett represents the everyday man. We can all understanding doing stupid things when we are drunk and later regret. But Doucett embodies the cliche douchebag. He is someone who is locked up and I go ‘he deserves it’. For Oh Dae-Su, I keep asking myself ‘WHY’? and the ‘why’ is the reason we keep watching the movie. And at this point, I’m wondering where you are going with OldBoy. I now hate Doucett and I empathize with Oh Dae-su. So… I’m going to keep watching this film.

Joe Doucett’s Character

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Oh Dae Su

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Now we are in a strange room. This is where both characters have been imprisoned for many years. For Oh Dae-Su, three very important things made his imprisonment a path to insanity which eventually led up to the culmination of the film’s shocking ending. 1. He was fed the same thing everyday. 2. His training 3. His hallucinations.

Now Doucett was fed dumplings everyday, but he also had vodka and other food to go with it too. I’m sorry, but the vodka clearly helps. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ok with being imprisoned if that meant I could drink everyday (but that’s just me). I see where you are going with the whole ‘I will fix my life up’ and use vodka as a symbol for it… (or just a short cut to thinking)

Doucett’s Diet as shown in the pictures

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Oh Dae Su’s Diet

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TRAINING AND FIGHTING

Oh Dae Su’s training included beating up the walls till he bled. Doucett did aerobics and sit ups. Later on, they put their skills to use. I can see how Oh Dae Su’s fighting led him to all the brutal battles. But I have a hard time believing the highly choreographed fights of Doucett through weight lifting books, aerobics and sit ups alone. Well, when he beat up a bunch of football players versus Oh Dae Su’s street thugs, that might be believable… I think.

Oh Dae-Su’s Training

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Doucett’s Training

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The classic fight scene that made the original OldBoy ICONIC was the obvious hammer scene which you kept. But this is where you got lazy again! In the original movie, halfway through the scene, Oh Dae-Su gets stabbed with a knife and he kept on fighting. I always remembered watching Oh Dae Su fight with a knife on his back and felt his pain. Doucett got stabbed in the back and that’s where the scene ended. Oh geez.

But you weren’t lazy in all your action sequences. I remember when Doucett first walked up the building where he was imprisoned. He ended up beating a bunch of guys just to get to Samuel L. Jackson. For Chan Wook Park, he did it all with one shot and a few dotted lines. Hmmm… maybe it’s not laziness, but rather, it’s effectiveness on Chan-Wook Park’s part.

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HALLUCINATIONS

Now this is the part that really scares me. When Oh Dae-Su eventually goes insane, he starts to go crazy and experience ants coming out and crawling all over his body. That scene creeped me out but I understood exactly why he was going through it. You had an african american bell hop boy as a hallucination? Right… I never understood that part. But you know what, even as an Asian, I felt it was racist and I didn’t even know why. Maybe that’s your genius is making me feel something I don’t understand about myself!

Here’s another comparison….

Oh Dae Su’s Hallucinations

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Doucett’s Hallucinations

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Ok, NOW that we have seen the imprisonment, let’s look at what happens when he was released. The first thing when they get out, they interact with the real world. Here’s the difference between both.

Oh Dae-Su

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Doucett

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Now, I may be biased, but for Oh Dae-Su to meet a man who is about to commit suicide, on the brink of death and savors the moment of his first human interaction in 15 years is a lot more powerful than stuffing your face with grass after 20 years. Maybe that extra 5 years makes the difference between grass and human. I wouldn’t know, so I couldn’t judge.

The film keeps going, and I felt the introduction of Olsen’s Character and his best friend just ‘happened’. There was no ‘meet up’ nor ‘build up’ of a relationship. I just felt you were lazy and just threw the characters together to see what would happen. Oh Dae-Su has to go through a journey to reclaim his life back. Meeting friends along the way, gathering new information. Doucett just seems to have everything thrown at him.

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And let’s not even talk about the villain. I felt you threw in the most cliche looking villain. Someone who should look the part and look evil… right?

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I must say, I much rather the Villain who has everything going for him, but he’s just too wrapped up in his anger for Oh Dae-su to enjoy and move on with his life. I love the fact that he is a good-looking man who has a very sweet and innocent face too.

But you are the director, so you know what’s best. And this means… the upcoming OCTOPUS SCENE! The one thing that I was really looking forward to was seeing Josh Brolin do THIS!

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But instead, I got this….

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Cripes! I was disappointed. But maybe he backed out at the last minute. I’m sure as a director, you would have LOVED to do that shot as well.

Throughout the rest of the movie, I became less and less interested in what was going on. Maybe if you wanted, I could keep going, but I fear it may ruin the ending for everybody. But for those of you who have seen the original OldBoy… yeah… he changed the ending to something tamer. Let’s just say it came down to this…

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I say give Brolin an Academy Award for re-enacting the scene from Troll 2

ohmygod

I really miss Oh Dae-Su’s intense monologue, followed by… you know

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The intensity and the writing of OldBoy has been completely changed. I don’t know why you did it. Perhaps you felt the monologues could not traverse through different cultures or that you could do a better writing. But the thing that made OldBoy special to every culture and race is that it’s not because it was Korean, it was because it was human. Perhaps you have spend so much time taking apart races in your other films that you categorize different races with different actions. Well, Mr. Lee, I just wanted to tell you that great films are not about the african american race or the asian race… great films are about the Human Race.

Thank you,
Pearry Teo
An Admirer of your other ‘joints’

P.S. IT WAS GENIUS TO INCLUDE WILSON IN THE MOVIE!

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10 Responses to “An Open Letter to Spike Lee”

  • yejin

    Such a good review I would say. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  • Simone

    Who is Wilson?

  • Wilson is the volley ball in Tom Hank’s castaway

  • brian

    On point, i am a black man and a fan of asian cinema, U.S. remakes of asian movies, what do i have to say? Infernal affairs? Comparing Asian movies to their U.S. remakes is like comparing a seven course dinner with instant noodle soup.

  • sewell whitney

    An actually loving review of a particular movie, a genre and movie making in general. Exceptionally well done Mr. Teo. Mr. Lee (and I still have a “She’s Gotta Have It” T-shirt), I think, will enjoy your words. Best to you both.

  • robert

    lol what’s up with all these open letters to spike lee xD

  • Emmanuel Zorg

    All great points. Especially about the villain!

  • Simone

    Thanks Pearry :)
    Actually I have to say that I liked the remake…maybe because I waited for the remake to come out and then watched the original.
    I think the movies aren’t too similar and therefore I didn’t really see the 2013 version as a remake of the 2003 film. Personally for me, it’s just a different movie with a partly similar plot because that’s not really extraordinary nowadays. There are so many films out there that could be different versions of the same song, but they don’t even belong to each other.
    If you watch the two movies independently you might see how good the 2013 version is. Of course the 2003 version will still be cult!

  • I think it’s fair to watch movies as their own. But I guess for me, when someone does a remake, they are taking the source material directly from someone else and I expect they wanted to be compared. Otherwise, name it a different film and say it was ‘inspired by’ instead. I mean, seven samurai and magnificent seven had their own merit and MS definitely credited SS. Or you could make the characters cartoon bugs and call it ‘A Bug’s Life’. IMHO, doing a direct remake equates to being allowed to be compared to another

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