Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Will it Suck?
The news of Will Smith and Steven Speilberg's intentions to remake (or as they insist, make another film from the same manga material), Chan-wook Park's Oldboy, the second and most stunning chapter in his revenge trilogy, (see also, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance), gives me a baaad feeling. Anybody who's seen the original, has likely not forgotten its blend of stylish ultra-violence, blackest humor and plot acrobatics, (for those who haven't seen it think The Count of Monte Cristo blended with Memento and uh... Angel Heart). A baaad feeling because Mr. Smith has got one of the most carefully managed images in the business and I just can't picture him sticking to the gruesome acts and consequences depicted in the original. Instead, I imagine a happy ending or at least a less devastating one. I pause now to reflect on the history of trans-cultural remakes.
Insomnie/Insomnia - to start things off on a good note - this Christopher Nolan remake of Erik Skjoldbjaerg's tale of a compromised cop trying to solve a murder in the land of perpetual sunshine, which along with a grated conscience produces the titular condition. Stellan Skarsgard is, shall we say, a little more reserved than Al Pacino, (no WhooAH!) and the casting of Robin Williams as the killer with leverage on the cop probably hurt the perception of the remake, but really... not bad at all. In fact, the English language version provides slightly murkier motives for the cop.
La Femme Nikita/Point of No Return - Luc Besson acheived a wide international audience with his tale of a government assassin trying to take control of her life and was offered the opportunity immediately to remake it for and American audience. Though he turned down the offer, Point of No Return was made and kept the story of the junkie thief who is mixed up in a robbery where folks is killed, then arrested, tried and executed in record time. Only... she hasn't been executed, she's been recruited by a black-ops agency of the government to be an assassin. And she's got no choice, really 'cause the world thinks she's dead and if she doesn't cooperate she'll be made so. Nikita is easily the better experience. Anne Parillaud kicking off her high heels and prepping her first hit, a surprise no less, in the kitchen of the chic restaurant she thinks she's being treated to a birthday dinner at is such an enticing figure. It was powerful enough to inspire a whole sub-genre, (seems anything Joss Whedon has had a hand in owes something to this ground-breaking flick and we'll go ahead and say Tombraider and anything Besson's ex-wife, Milla Jovovitch has done in the last ten years belongs here too). Point, is Hollywood in all the ways you'd expect - a little glossier, a little softer, big stars, (Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel), bigger action, but just can't eclipse the original for impact.
Mou gaan dou, (Infernal Affairs)/The Departed - It's a simple concept and a wonder why it felt so fresh - there's a gangster "undercover" on the police force and his doppelganger infiltrating the crime organization he works for. Both know the other exists, and both are working to discover who the other is. Layers of misdirection and betrayal peel away and by the end of both films, the body count is high and you've been highly entertained, but jeez, these are different pictures. Everybody was glad to see Scorcese finally take a statuette home on Oscar night though I haven't heard anybody call it his best picture. The Departed was flawed. Where Infernal Affairs was a stiletto slipped between your ribs that you never saw coming, The Departed hacked away at you starting with your feet. It went out of its way to please Jack Nicholson fans, (don't get me wrong - he's enjoyable, just ham handed and almost completely unnecessary)and chromosome counters, (again - love Vera Farmiga, but her role was a detour from the heart of the film - I don't think there was any female lead in Mou gaan dou). It was a gas to watch Scorcese and company have fun, and it's an amazingly satisfying movie while feeling like a toss off at the same time. Infernal Affairs has a leaner run time and plot line and delivers greater, Hong Kong style thrills in the gunfights. It also spawned a trilogy, (Mou gaan dou 2&3) and deserves to make western stars out of Tony Leung and Andrew Lau. In the end... I'm gonna go with The Departed.
Ju-on/The Grudge, Gin gwai/The Eye - Don't get me started on the English versions. Just see the originals.
Ringu/The Ring - Where Ringu was spare, The Ring inflated, though, in a rare exception, improved the original too. Both are worth seeing, as much as the sequals are not.
I'm tired now. Which did I miss/skip?