Trailer Face-off: Oldboy vs. Romeo and Juliet
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Oldboy vs. Romeo and Juliet, two remakes that hope to rake in the big bucks.
Based on Korean director Park Chan-wook’s 2003 film of the same name, Oldboy follows Joseph Ducett (Josh Brolin). Ducett wakes up one morning to find himself trapped in solitary confinement, not knowing why or where. He spends the next 20 years watching the world change before his eyes through a small television set. He quickly learns through the news that he is suspected of murdering his wife. When he suddenly finds himself in a suitcase in the middle of a field, seemingly free, he goes off to find his captor and the answer to his own mysterious disappearance. Romeo and Juliet, the most famous love story ever told, needs no introduction. Star-crossed lovers, feuding families, tragic death—everybody knows the plot. The latest remake is just one to add to the seemingly endless pile, but, as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and with a story this good, we’ll be seeing remakes for a long time. In fact, Elizabeth Olsen, one of the stars of Oldboy, will be playing Juliet off-Broadway this fall.
Advantage: Romeo and Juliet
Spike Lee fills the shoes of original Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes for it in 2004. Spike Lee has more than a few awards (and Oscar nominations) under his belt and is known for tackling race, politics, and urban crime and poverty. With this film, it seems he’s not only trying to fill Park Chan-wook’s shoes, but also step into those of someone like Quentin Tarantino. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, will be director Carlo Carlei’s first big Hollywood film. While Carlei’s written screenplays in the past and directed a number of TV movies, no one, especially not such a rookie, can really compare to Spike Lee.
Beyond the language difference—whether that’s from Korean to English or Elizabethan to contemporary American English—the two films adhere very closely to their originals. And with such good plotlines, why wouldn’t they? Many have tried to put their own spin on Romeo and Juliet with varying levels of success, but this film sticks to the script and even the costumes. As far as the trailer is concerned, Spike Lee’s Oldboy seems to simply be the American version of the original, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Some minor differences are that Ducett is prisoner for 20 years, instead of 15, and Elizabeth Olsen’s character isn’t a sushi chef.
Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson are an unlikely trio, but they work well together for Oldboy. We can’t help but get Pulp Fiction vibes, which is always a good thing. There are many familiar faces in this version of Romeo and Juliet, including Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) from Gossip Girl playing Tybalt and Brody (Damian Lewis) from Homeland playing Lord Capulet, which are a little jarring. Hailee Steinfeld is a perfect choice, though, for Juliet; but her Romeo, played by British heartthrob Douglas Booth (last seen in LOL with Miley Cyrus), may tip the teen movie/Twilight scale.
Sex, Drugs, and Violence
If you count poison as a drug, both films have all of the above—but we’ll take R-rated sex, drugs, and violence over PG-13 nonsense any day of the week. The dark, disturbing bloodshed in the original Oldboy, which took the Manga comics it was based on to a whole new level, gained it a cult following. Though Josh Brolin may not be a nimble kung fu fighter, Spike Lee does his best to keep up the standards in his remake. According to the trailer, it seems that Lee has remade the now-famous hallway fight scene, which took Park Chan-wook three days to film.
The story of Romeo and Juliet never gets old (okay, maybe it does a little), but this remake doesn’t seem to offer audiences anything new. Though Oldboy is also a cult classic, many English-language speakers have yet to brave the subtitles of the original, meaning that Spike Lee’s version will be an American rebirth of sorts. To some, that may be a crime in itself, but the trailer makes it seem like Lee is doing his best to pay proper homage.
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