Friday, November 07, 2008

Ask a Korean! News: Hollywood to Cure Oldboy's Deficiency by Removing All Asians

Old readers of this blog would know that this is a topic that really pisses off the Korean:

Steven Spielberg and Will Smith are in early discussions to collaborate on a remake of Chan Wook-park's "Oldboy." ... Spielberg had been looking for an opportunity to make a film with Smith, who would play the kidnapped man if all the pieces fall into place.


This is bullshit. This is going to be The Departed all over again.

The Korean does not play the race card very often, but this situation calls for it. This flurry of Asian movie remake has racism written all over it. Yellow face doesn't sell; Asians are too foreign.

The Korean does not buy the idea that the remakes are happening because Americans are too lazy to read the subtitles. How do you explain the wild success of Life is Beautiful, Pan's Labyrinth, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, all shown in American theaters with subtitles?

In fact, all three movies were so successful that they were all available in English-dubbed version in theaters and on DVD. You are telling the Korean that Oldboy, a legend among Korean movies that hooked numerous non-Korean moviewatchers to Korean movies for the first time, would not sell in American theaters with subtitles or dubbing? That makes no sense.

The fact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was fine without a remake featuring Chuck Norris, but Oldboy requires a remake featuring Will Smith, is telling. Hollywood is operating under the assumption that people would watch Asians wielding swords and walking on air, but not Asians portraying intricate emotion that accompanies a complex plot. This is purebred racism, no more, no less.


Who knows -- maybe Spielberg would be less shameless than Martin Scorsese, and this film would contain some genuine creativity on his part, making it a true derivative rather than a straight-up plagiarism like The Departed. In fact, casting Will Smith shows a little bit of potential in that direction. Smith adds a little bit of humor element to the Oh Daesu character, and his reaction to the crazy confinement may make the movie entirely different. Also, the Korean has a hard time believing that there will be a graphic display of incest in a Spielberg movie.

After all, Oldboy is based on a Japanese cartoon, at least as far as the 15-year confinement part. Creativity relies heavily upon borrowing. So if the American version of Oldboy adds something new and unexpected to the story while maintaining the basic setup of the movie, the Korean would not get upset. However, if the movie ends up being like The Departed's plagiarism of Infernal Affairs, down to dialogues, character appearances, camera angles and stage setup, the Korean will just lose it.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

-EDIT 11/13/08 8:42 a.m.- While reading on this topic, the Korean found this gem:

If this is not a conclusive argument against the remake, the Korean does not know what is. (Source)


  1. Gosh... an Oldboy remake would be awful, I hope it never happens.

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  3. Dear Korean,

    I, too, want to share your optimism on Spielberg's remake of the true classic, but after watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Numbskull, I cannot hold out too much hope that it will be different and/or unique. I'd be interested in seeing how he and Will Smith handle the corridor-hammer fight sequence.

    Movies like Old Boy and the more recent The Chaser are truly gripping masterpieces that can hold their own in any market, and it's a darned shame that these retarded racist Hollywood execs keep Whitewashing excellent Asian movies to insult the intelligence of moviegoers.

  4. Remaking Asian movies to a blockbuster is nothing new in Hollywood. I am obvisously disapointed that they have decided to remake one of my all time favorites. Nevertheless, Spielberg is a brilliant director. So if anyone was going to direct it, I would it rather be Spielberg than anybody else -- no comments on Will Smith. I am more of a Denzel W. guy!!

    Hollywood will never cast Asian Actors in leading roles, unless its one of those stupid, meaningless martial arts flicks.

    I saw a show where they did a poll on the most sexiest males and females relative to their race, and the poll showed Asian Men as least sexiest. Conversely, Asian females came in at #1 on most desired among females.

  5. "...and the poll showed Asian Men as least sexiest. Conversely, Asian females came in at #1 on most desired among females."

    How would it affect the same poll if all Asian men became transvestites? LOL

  6. I agree that there is a lot of discrimination and stereotyping in Hollywood. In the rare occasions Asian men manage to make their way into a movie, their characters always get the shaft, one way or another. Asian women get the shaft too, but God forbid it's an Asian shaft.

    But, although it's possible that this discrimination is a factor, I believe that the surge in remakes of Asian movies can be attributed to two major causes:

    1) The lack of good original scripts.
    If I had any talent at all I'd be moving to LA and writing movie scripts for a living. It should be easy, considering the rather unimaginative movies they're producing lately.

    2) The palatability
    They probably believe that they should make Asian movies more palatable to American audiences by including elements familiar to local people (location, known habits, cultural background, etc).

    Remakes are not an exclusivity reserved for Asian movies. Remember "The Hitcher"? It was remade. "Psycho"? Remade. Remember "The Fly"? It was a remake. And there are lots of other old movies that were remade, some even two or three times! All for the same reasons. No talent to create something new and adaptation to more modern audiences.

    I hate the negative portrayal of Asians in Hollywood and the media in general. I even think it's a contributing factor to the very existence of people like this. But I don't think racism is causing the remakes of Asian movies.

    Having said that, it's a shame that the average American is not given the opportunity to watch the original movies and instead, get the modified Hollywood versions (in the case of "Oldboy" I believe it will be a watered down version). It would be a lot better for them to be exposed to other cultures and new experiences.

  7. ksoje,

    Gina Choe should be subjected to a very heavy dose of horse tranquilizer. Mr. & Mrs Choe, my most heartfelt kudos on raising an intelligent upstanding woman that do us Koreans proud. What a dumb woman.

  8. What, in fact, appealed to me about "Old Boy" was its very Koreanness. You can't have Will Smith wolfing down a whole life octopus!!

    ...Though that would be entertaining to watch.

  9. The original remake rumor consisted of Nicholas Cage playing the role of Oh Dae-Su. I think Spielberg + Will is not the right chemistry. Spielberg has the talent, but he's been selling us out lately. I would rather see Russell Crowe portray Oh Dae-Su.

  10. I agree with Ksoje -there's plenty of racism and pigeonholing of Asians in Hollywood, but I don't think that's the main reason for these remakes.

    Hollywood writers are equal-opportunity idea thieves. Any film that is foreign or more than fifteen years old is fair game for copying. Think about how many French, German, Russian, or, for that matter, British films have been blatantly ripped off. Hollywood knows that most Americans prefer American movies with American actors speaking American English. In fact, Asian martial arts films are probably the sole exception to this because it's the only genre where we Americans don't always buy a white American lead

  11. Well...I don't watch too many movies generally so that may be the problem but I can't remember *any* instance of an Asian original not having martial arts as its primary vehicle doing significantly well here in the states. (by significantly well I guess I mean huge blockbuster success) So how do you allocate the blame here? Should Hollywood risk big money on a proposition the type of which has very little or possibly no examples of previous success? Then again, they risk money on some of the dumbest and foulest movies you can imagine, so maybe their racist assumptions are in fact unreasonable. Does this mean some racist assumptions in fact CAN be reasonable from a money stand point? When is it and when is it not reasonable?

  12. Eh. While I think there is plenty of racism in Hollywood I think you're conflating issues here. I thought the Departed was a pretty good remake all told. I don't see why they should feel constrained to use Asians in an Asian movie remake. That seems more racial in motive and misguided. "It was a Korean movie we need Asian actors!" What? No. They don't have any Spanish people in the REC remake either.

    Still, this is going to be wiggidy, wiggidy whack and not a patch on Oldboy.

  13. Hey torm, I don't think the post says anything about using Asians in an Asian remake. The main point is why not just show the original with subs or dubs

  14. The original was released with subtitles back in 2005. It didn't open on many screens, but that's typical for a movie like Oldboy. If it had done well, it would have spread to more screens, but earnings dropped precipitously after the opening weekend.

  15. ksoje,

    You watch America's Next Top Model?? ::gag::

    But in all seriousness, the Korean thinks the "palatability" part of your comment is exactly what the Korean is hitting on. For example, there is nothing familiar for Americans about Franco-era Spain, but Pan's Labyrinth did just fine with subtitles. What makes Pan's Labyrinth ok, and not Oldboy? (Or The Departed for that matter?) That's the racism part: Franco-era Spain has white people in it, so that's kind of ok. But modern day Korea or Hong Kong has no white people. That has to be fixed.

    The Korean also agrees that remakes are not exclusively Asian, but the examples you gave are not on the point. Give the Korean some examples of remaking a European movie that was 1. remade within 5 years of release, and 2. a massive, popular hit in Europe. That would be a valid counterexample.


    That's interesting, but without widespread release and some advertising, even The Matrix would generate that kind of number. 28 screens all across America? That really means nothing.

  16. The point is that Oldboy's initial release was very similar to that of many other limited release films, including your example of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. CTHD didn't achieve widespread release because marketers felt like they could sell Asians with swords. It spread because it did good business on the 17 screens it opened on and continued to make more money as it slowly spread to more screens. The same thing would have happened with Oldboy if people had gone to see it in the NY/LA markets, but they didn't.

    As for remakes that fit your two criteria, [REC] is a good example. I just happened to read this post today which says, "While Quarantine failed to make much of a splash ehre [sic] in North America the film that it is based upon - Spanish zombie film [●REC] - has been simply HUGE all around the world - except for North America where Sony has prevented people from seeing it so as to spare Quarantine any negative comparisons."

    I personally don't think there's any racism involved. It's just a fact that most foreign films don't do well in the U.S. For every Life is Beautiful there are a hundred equally good foreign films that never make it out of limited release.

  17. Dear Korean,

    You know the name of the show?? ::까당::

    When you say racism, who are you talking about, American audiences or movie producers?

    Remakes of Asian films fall in the general category of what I will call Portrayal of Asians in Media and this is a perfect example of the chicken-or-the-egg problem.

    Fact 1: in Hollywood movies (and other types of media), Asian people are always shown in some stereotypical role (geeks, sidekick to the main villain, martial artists, hookers, etc).

    Fact 2: the average American doesn't feel comfortable watching Asian people out of the usual stereotypical roles (geeks, sidekick to the main villain, martial artists, hookers, etc).

    Problem: Which is the cause and which is the effect?

    While your post concentrates on Fact 1, I'm realistically accepting Fact 2. So, if you say Americans audiences are racist, I say yes they are. But I believe movie producers do what they do for money, not racism.

    "That has to be fixed."

    I agree, but how? This "problem" has deep and ramified roots and it won't be easy to solve.

  18. To add another example, I just saw today that the Swedish movie Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In) is being redone in English, despite the fact that the original is still in U.S. theaters!

    There's certainly racism in hollywood, but I just don't think a destined-to-be-bad Oldboy remake is an example of it. Americans just don't like foreign movies -subtitles are too much like thinking- and it's a very rare foreign film that can make it the U.S. How many truly successful subtitled European films can you think of?

    Oh, I just remembered to add these two:
    In Wieter Ferne, So Nah became City of Angels (okay that was closer to ten years)
    Abre Los Ojos became Vanilla Sky

  19. Korean,

    Below are four remakes that the Kaiser watched and fall into your request (short time between original and remake; original a huge success in Europe).

    - "Bella Martha" (2001)
    - "No Reservations" (2007)

    - "Nikita" (1990)
    - "Point of no return" (1993)
    In this case the Kaiser watched both and the original is way better.

    - "Les Visiteurs" (1993)
    - "Just visiting" (2001)

    - "3 hommes et un couffin" (1985)
    - "3 Men and a Baby" (1987)

    The Kaiser also forgot to clarify that he doesn't watch "America's Next Top Model" (not that there's anything wrong with that).

    (Hey, this 3rd person writing is kinda fun.) =)

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  21. Haha how ridiculous. I say to let them try it. It would have to be a completely different story and this would be new levels of darkness for either of them. It's obvious that this movie will be "Lost in Translation" so to speak. Some of the things just do not transfer over. I honestly don't them even trying for this and will go a much "safer" route. The movie's mind crusher effect is huge, but the scenes are brutal. b I guess if people can handle Saw, Seven, and Stigmata then this shouldn't be a problem.Can Will Smith do it? Completely wrong actor in my opinion. Now if Jack Nicholson were a bit younger then I'd think it would have a shot, but this formula just doesn't add up to success in my mind. I'd be interested in their interpretation, but that raw fluidity of the movie is what makes it special and somehow I don't see that being emulated and put into an American environment.

  22. @iatit,

    (If the Korean will kindly allow us to discuss movies here).

    I considered your first comment on this thread as a recommendation and watched "The Chaser".

    Maybe my expectations got high when you praised it so much, but although it is above average, it's far from what I'd call a Korean masterpiece, which in my opinion should be reserved for movies like "Oldboy" and "My Sassy Girl" (holding back hysteric laughter).

    I thought the plot was reasonably interesting (although the main point of interest is that most of it was based in a real case) but the execution was quite mediocre.

    The bad points:
    - Too many long scenes in which the "hero" was being restrained by cops (some of them in slow motion, which prolonged the pain).
    - Melodramatic performance by the actor playing the "hero".
    - I've heard about the Korean Police being incompetent (although I don't know if it's true) but in this movie they exaggerate it. No police force in the world can be this incompetent and still maintain civil order.
    - No development on the killer's motives.

    Good points:
    - Realistic on-foot chases. In Hollywood movies people never slow down or get tired while in those chases.
    - The gory scenes. I'm not into watching people getting killed but those hammer&chisel scenes were great and reminiscent of the superior "Oldboy".
    - Superb performance by the actor who played the killer.
    - The exchange between the killer and the female detective. It was kinda distasteful but it also was unexpected, funny and well executed.

    I wouldn't mind if they fixed some of the problems and remade this film in Hollywood. But I reiterate my opinion that the main point of interest of the plot is that it was based on a real case.

  23. I think I can settle this argument once and for all. You guys are over analyzing. There's a simple truth behind remaking movies, whether it's remaking old American movies or more recent foreign films. Here it is:

    The movie being remade are just too good to be marketable. I mean, come on, real emotion? That's not Hollywood. Lack of one-liners? I gag! We've got to water it down so it can be viewed by the widest possible demographic so it can be profitable, it's got to be mind-numbing because we're averse to anything thought-provoking, and any emotion which can't be easily categorized or any situation which can't be sold as sound bites is simply too demanding. What are we supposed to do, learn from a movie? Expand our awareness of ourselves, others, and the world around us? Movies are supposed to remind us why we don't need to change and why we should never wonder if we're missing something in life by being the same person day in, day out. Successful movies have to blandly remind us that what we're doing is right and that whatever it is that we are is perfectly sufficient.

    That said...

    This remake is bound to be truly, truly horrible. Oldboy? Spielburg? Really? He obviously hasn't even seen the film, otherwise he'd know what he was getting into.. or maybe he does, and he's relishing the idea of destroying something that's truly twisted in a magnificently artistic kind of way.

    Ah, commercialization: it's the American way.

    I haven't seen Internal Affairs, though.. and I'm definitely intrigued. What's the Korean title? Maybe I can find a copy in the Gangnam subway...

  24. Just read the previous post about The Departed. And In-F-ernal Affairs. And it's not Korean. I'm a dope, yes, duly noted.

    But a remake will still suck.

    Why, Hollywood, why?!?!

  25. ksoje,

    I guess we'll agree to disagree on The Chaser. The movie is not without its flaws, but I still like the unique plot and the irony that the protagonist is a thoroughly vile and despicable human being that ends up a "hero." As for the total incompetence of the Korean police depicted, it is very hard for me to give them a benefit of doubt when I read some of the newspaper articles coming out of Korea on how they bungle the cases of kidnapped/murdered/abused children.

    Speaking of Korean masterpieces, I also would like to put Memories of Murder and Failan up there.

    As for the remake of Old Boy, I would have preferred a director with a little more gritty edge like Christopher Nolan over Spielberg whose movies, while meticulous and polished, are nothing like the look and feel of The Old Boy.

  26. In general, I don't care much for Hollywood films anyways. Remake or fresh from the box.

    I have always enjoyed foreign or independent films.

    Maybe Korea could do a blindside by taking a famous American movie and remake it, then watch it flop.


  27. iatit,

    do you mind elaborating a little more on the uniqueness of the plot? To my amateur eyes, most movies about serial killers have similar plots and atmosphere, and "The Chaser" is no different.

    Also, despicable human beings who find redemption is a huge Hollywood cliche. Some actors made whole careers out of it.

    On "Oldboy" though, I'll have to cordially disagree with you again. It's hard to imagine a remake regardless the director, since the movie was indeed a masterpiece. I think anything they produce will be a watered down version.

    You may email me if you feel we're going too stray from the original subject.

  28. ksoje,

    What I found unique about the plot is that an ex-cop turned pimp becomes the protagonist searching for the female victim, which is quite a departure from the run-of-the-mill Hollywood serial killer films in which the "chaser" is either a lover or a family member of the victim or a tired and emotionally-conflicted cop delaying his retirement to catch the killer. Further, the pimp is searching for his girl purely out of greed — to collect his money — and not out of some high-horse morality. Knowing this, though, it amused me that I was forced to root for him to find the victim for the victim's sake. What happens to the victim at the end, too, was another surprise that you'd rarely see happen in a Hollywood flick. Yes, there have been some Hollywood flicks that show less-than-wholesome characters finding redemption, but none really pops to my head as being memorable or done in such a no-apologies manner as The Chaser. Again, the movie has its flaws (the dubious portrayal of the killer, mainly), but it still is a terrific Korean film compared to the most of the Korean films that feature sappy love stories or comical 조폭 goons.

    As for The Old Boy, I completely agree with you that any remake of the film will be suck in comparison to the original. I was just saying that if it has to be remade, than there are directors other than Spielberg that can mimic the hard-edge intensity and dark humor of the original.

  29. I've seen Oldboy. Great movie, but not a flick that was very palatable to the American taste bud, if you will. And to compare it to La Vite e Bella is silly. They were each given very comparable starting opportunities at American box office screens. Oldboy didn't go wide because it did not get the buzz from audiences that it needed. In the end, Oldboy grossed $705,000 while Life Is Beautiful crushed it with $57,000,000 in gross sales.

    In my opinion, what Korean productions are lacking is strong global marketing and distribution. Filmmakers also need to get out of their mode of trying to confuse or shock audiences. It simply doesn't translate well when you're also trying to absorb differences in culture, language, and you're reading the dialogue.

    Siworae (later remade into The Lake House) is another example of this. It was a great movie, but confusing when you have the translate the storyline and changing timeline while reading the captions.

  30. I'm already wincing at spielberg and smith being connected to THIS story. Sorry, but a movie like Oldboy needs a wacky, edgy director, like David Fincher (fight club) or Darren Aronofsky (requiem for a dream) or Christopher Nolan (momento), and character actors with real talent and a bit of edginess, who don't just ride on their personal charisma, like notwillsmith.

    they should leave this one alone.

  31. You've made a good point about Americans re-making Asian movies. Is it any different than all the re-makes of American and English music I hear in Korea? Why not just play the original music instead of copying our sounds?
    Also, I think that Old Boy could be made better. In my opinion, it should be edited. Many scenes could have been cut down or eliminated. I think American audiences would grow bored with the movie. Also, the movie was slightly difficult to follow. I watched this movie with a group of American friends, and we all felt the same way. I think this particular movie would need to be remade for it to be popular among typical American movie-goers.
    As far as including more Asians in American movies - maybe. I don't see any non-Asian faces as main characters in Korean films. The Korean shows I have seen with white people rely on white stereotypes. For example, the "loose" female teacher whose curves were the subject of jokes about her eating habits! (I'm talking about the funny Korean comedy "Please Teach Me English." I enjoyed the movie but took offense to the stereotypes used for the Australian teacher.)
    As far as Asian-Americans in films - - not sure. It seems like we need more Hispanic people in films considering the demographic shift in the US. I don't think the US population as a whole has more than 10% Asians.

  32. @mandykat,

    congratulations! Your comment now tops my list of the most stupid shit I've ever come across in the Internet. An infinite number of mentally handicapped monkeys in front of a computer for an infinite number of years wouldn't be able to produce something like what you wrote.

  33. "...I watched this movie with a group of American friends, and we all felt the same way. I think this particular movie would need to be remade for it to be popular among typical American movie-goers."

    The whole point of this particular topic is arguing against taking well-made foreign films and dumbing them down to suit the taste and sensibilities of "typical American movie-goers" that keep making stars out of no-talent ass clowns like Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston and their agonizingly predictable cookie-cutter movies. Yet you waste your time and precious brain cells to log in to tell us that Old Boy will have to be remade so that you and your friends can enjoy it better. I'm sorry, but am I missing something here???

  34. That's as civil as I can get when faced with such an idiotic comment. =P

  35. I guess I'm confused. Is the purpose of making and releasing movies purely to create a great film, or is it more to make a profit? If it is the former, I guess many of you may be right in your arguments about how awful and potentially racist remaking Oldboy could be. But, I'm guessing that the real reason to release a movie is to make a significant profit. I don't think there is any racial intention here by Stephen Spielberg and Will Smith. Something tells me that a remake will make much more money than the original, regardless of how crappy the film turns out. I think that Mandykat was absolutely right that it needs to be dumbed-down to American audiences so that they can understand it. I will still probably prefer the original Oldboy, but that really doesn't matter, does it?

  36. @chris,

    let me try to enlighten you then.

    I'm not all that familiar with Korean artists remaking American songs, so I'm not judging her comment for that particular statement.

    I'm also ok with her opinion that "Oldboy" is boring. People have, after all, different levels of sophistication when it comes to personal taste.

    What I have a problem with is her last point. Nobody here advocated more Asian people in Hollywood movies. The problem is how they portray us. I'd rather have no Asians at all in Hollywood movies than what we have now.

    And there aren't white people as main characters in Korean movies because they're not a significant part of the population. The majority of westerners living in Korea are probably English teachers and military personnel. Both groups were represented without any prejudice in Korean movies.

    And, come on, the teacher in "Please teach me English" was not loose at all. She was portrayed as a very correct person. Had she been loose she would have slept with the male lead.

    That movie sucked, by the way.

  37. I'm sure I'm talking to the wrong crowd here considering the snicker "My Sassy Girl" got from and earlier commenter... but it is interesting to note that it was made into not only a Bollywood movie (which I didn't realize until I started to watch said Bollywood movie and went "huh? Haven't I seen all of these scenes somewhere?") but also a very recent American remake. It is a fairly repeated character set in Korean romantic comedies: quiet, submissive young boy and a belligerent girl... and they are the same characters across all three movies. But it was very interesting to note the cultural differences brought to each one. I couldn't even watch more than half of the American one. It was so god-awful that I had to try twice to watch it at all. The scriptwriters had to actually add to the story to explain why the guy is polite and doesn't sleep around. I can understand when some things are re-made because of cultural references and ways of relating, but for the most part they just don't need to be done at all. What's wrong with Oldboy as it was? If the story was good enough for someone to want to re-make it... why not just show the original (which is the point of this blog). Same goes with ANY other movie that has been re-made. For the most part it seems to be an unnecessary and lame attempt to cash in on someone else's ideas. Racism may be part of it, but I think it is more specifically a culture thing. No, Will Smith will probably not scarf down a whole octopus, Americans don't relate to eating octopus at all. Anyway, I agree, it's going to suck and if I could I'd like to apologize on behalf of my greedy, discriminating fellow citizens. We're not all bad :)

  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. Here's the mother of all arguments against crappy Hollywood remakes:


    Let us forever put this matter to rest.

  40. I just found this site and I love it. That being said, I'm ignorant of what you do and don't know, so don't yell at me if you already knew this fact. I hate that all these remakes of Asian movies are being made, but what is worse that the man behind many of these remakes is actually Korean. I don't think he's behind the Oldboy remake, but he was an executive producer for The Departed.

  41. Oops, I forgot to mention his name.
    Roy Lee.

  42. As a black guy who was blown away by OLDBOY, I firmly agree with 'mr. the korean'. this was a top flick, and although pretty disturbing, is one i recommend to people all the time...and only with subtitles, the voice over ruins the sound of the korean speech, which sounds amazing, even if it is unintelligible to me.

    that said, can't wait to see the korean version of 'the colour purple'.

    oh dae-su doesnt know when to shut up. me neither.


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