Is The Rose Storyline In The Last Jedi Really Pointless?

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

So I’ve been surfing the web recently, and I’ve been reading a lot of reviews for Star Wars: The Last Jedi which criticize my new favorite character, Rose, and her storyline. They all pretty much have the same thing to say, “her storyline is pointless. It adds up to nothing.”

Now, my instant, gut reaction is, “well fuck you. I liked her, and you all should be more supportive of an Asian American actress finally making it big in hollywood.” But then I took a step back, and started thinking. Was her storyline really pointless? After all, her plan to find a hacker fails, the hacker she does find betrays her, and she stops Finn from sacrificing himself to save the Resistance. In a sense, neither she nor Finn did anything that was relevant, plot wise. So, yes, the Rose storyline was, in that respect, pointless.

But the question I want to ask the world is, is that a bad thing? Is it bad for movies to have scenes and characters that don’t effect the overall plot? I would argue “no.”

The best films have characters and worlds that feel lived-in, and real, and one of the best ways to do that is to show characters just interacting with each other and their environments. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino have made careers off of writing scenes that don’t really have an impact on the plot, and yet, are interesting, and flesh out the characters. Basically every conversation Jules and Vincent have in Pulp Fiction is like this. Their opening talk about hash bars never gets brought up again. Neither does their conversation in the diner about pork. The taxi driver Bruce Willis talks to doesn’t come back to play at all. And the discussion of pot bellies and blueberry pancakes serves no purpose whatsoever. If the film was to cut all of these “pointless” scenes, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, and the characters wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

Another great example of a “pointless” scene that actually makes the movie better is the gas station stand off in No Country For Old Men. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Javier Bardem plays a psychotic killer who decides whether or not to murder people by flipping a coin and giving them the chance to call it. If they get it right, he lets them go. If they don’t, he kills them. In one scene, he goes into a gas station, and the gas station owner tries to make small talk. Javier Bardem doesn’t like that, and so flips the coin. The gas station attendant gets it right, and Bardem leaves. Now, this is the one scene that everyone who’s watched the movie talks about and remembers. They say it has the best dialogue, and the best acting. But here’s the thing; it’s pointless. The gas station attendant never comes back into the picture. And, in the end, the scene was just a whole lot of build up to nothing. Bardem doesn’t kill him. He just leaves. In terms of plot progression, this whole stand off is dead weight. And yet, if you were to take away this “pointless” scene, you’d have lost one of the best moments in cinema.

So, yes, maybe Rose’s storyline in The Last Jedi is “pointless” in that it doesn’t effect the overall plot, but that doesn’t make it bad. It introduces us to a fun new character, who provides a different perspective on the conflict. It’s got some good humor with her and Finn. There’s a fun sequence where the two of them ride horse/kangaroo monsters through a Casino, tearing it to pieces. And, as I said before, it provides us with a non-stereotypical Asian character in a major blockbuster franchise. That’s huge. See, Cliff Chang, the artist on the comic series Paper Girls, told me something heartbreaking once. He said, “growing up, I never saw myself in the artwork that I loved. And, over time, I just grew to accept that.” But that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. Rose is proof that you can have Asian characters in big budget, blockbuster franchises, who don’t speak broken English, or know martial arts, and the world won’t fall apart. Millions of young Asian-Americans will see her and think, “that could be me one day” and not “I could never be in those movies,” which, sadly, is what many people of my parent’s generation, including my father, were taught. And the fact that they won’t think it can’t happen for them, the fact that they will be inspired, is wonderful. So, yeah, Rose’s storyline is pointless. But the movie, and the world, wouldn’t be better without it.

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Logan Lucky (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When he’s laid off for liability reasons, West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan decides, “screw looking for a new job and getting my life back on track, I’m gonna rob NASCAR.” So he assembles a motley crew of other hillbillies and hicks, including his brother, Clyde, his sister, Mellie, explosives expert Joe Bang, and a bunch of other people whose names I can’t remember. Together, they plan a huge, ridiculous heist, which hinges upon several things going exactly right (don’t they always), and set things in motion on the biggest race of the year. Will they pull it off? Well, if you actually care, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Logan Lucky is well-acted, well-shot, and reasonably well-written. And it’s kind of a bore. Seriously. There were several points in this movie where I checked my watch, and even asked the screen, “come on! What are you waiting for?” And that’s sad, because this is a movie that has the potential to be great. It’s got a super-talented director, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, Ocean’s 11) behind the camera, and an equally talented cast in front of it. And yet the film feels about 20 minutes too long, and isn’t sufficiently funny, or exciting enough, to make up for that.

Part of this is due to Soderbergh’s direction. He’s a filmmaker known for taking pretty mainstream ideas–an FBI agent hunting a crook, a group of guys trying to rob a casino–and making them artsy with things like drawn out scenes of dialogue, stylistic photography, and nonlinear editing. Here, he takes a very basic premise–hillbillies trying to rob NASCAR–and injects unnecessary side characters and subplots, like a child’s beauty pageant, or someone learning to drive stick, which just hurt the pace. Seriously, if you took Seth McFarlane and Sebastian Stan’s characters out of the movie, it’d be about 15 minutes shorter, and the plot would be effected in no way whatsoever. I was also kind of confused by why they decided to rob NASCAR. Oh sure, they give an explanation for why they chose that particular target, but what I was left wondering was why they just jumped straight into stealing. Wasn’t any consideration given to finding real jobs? Do they need the money now? Every character seems financially stable. It’s not like they risk losing their homes if they don’t pay a certain amount by a certain date. As such, it just kind of feels like they’re doing this on a whim. Which doesn’t work for a movie. Characters’ choices have to be motivated in fiction. And the characters in this movie just seemed like they were doing stuff for shits and giggles. Which is not good.

Guys, if it sounds like I hated this movie, I really didn’t. I’ve always said, the only question you should ask yourself after you watch a film is, “do I regret going to see that?” And I don’t regret going to see this. Is it great? No. Is it terrible? Not really. Its somewhere in the middle. Funny, but not that funny. Exciting, but not that entertaining. If you’re a fan of the director, the cast, or heist films in general, you might like this. But go in expecting a slower pace, and a little bit of boredom.

Empire Of Passion: Deconstructed

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

Returning to his hometown from a brief stint in the army, young Toyoji begins courting the much older, and married, Seki. Their romance is fairly innocent at first,  with  Toyoji doing nice things for her, like bringing over flowers and sweets. However, things quickly take a turn for the dark when Toyoji forces himself on Seki while she is caring for her infant son. Then, after extorting several, increasingly degrading sexual acts from her, Toyoji, who is extremely jealous, says that they must kill Seki’s husband. “I can’t stand the thought of you being with any other man,” he says. Seki reluctantly agrees, and, one night, after getting her husband good and drunk, she and Toyoji strangle him to death. They then dump his body down a well, and tell everyone in their village that her husband went off to Tokyo. But when the man’s ghost begins haunting the streets of their community, rumors begin circulating, and the authorities are brought in to investigate.

Empire Of Passion is a film I reviewed a while back. When I first saw it, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I admired the film’s look, with the use of light and smoke really creating a tense, otherworldly atmosphere. But just about everything else, from the over-the-top acting, to the idiotic character choices, to the repetitive scenes and questionable sexual politics, didn’t work for me. For that reason, I gave the movie a bad review, and put it out of my mind. Or I tried to, anyway. For even now, after all this time, I’ve been unable to forget it. Something about this picture has stuck with me. It’s clung to my consciousness like a stain to a shirt. For this reason, and the fact that I’ve now seen some more of the director, Nagisa Oshima’s, other works, I have decided to do an in-depth analysis of the film. Hopefully, in so doing, I will be able to make a better, more informed decision about whether or not the picture is any good. But to do that, I must answer a few questions; What kind of movie is this? What is its underlying message? And, most importantly, can it be read as pro or anti-feminist?

Starting with the obvious, what kind of film is this? What I mean when I say that is, what genre does this film fall into? Is it a horror film? Is it a drama? Is it an erotic romance? For as long as there has been fiction, writers, publishers and audiences have put different stories into different categories. Partly as a marketing tool, and partly as a way to help people understand the story and its themes better. Determining Empire Of Passion’s genre can, and will, clarify its messages and ideas. So, what genre is it? Well, on the surface, it would appear to be a horror movie. There’s a ghost. There’s eerie lighting. There’s creepy-sounding music. All this would seem to suggest that Empire of Passion is a horror movie. But that ignores one of, nay, the key, truths about horror films; that they are designed to frighten and panic. Empire Of Passion clearly is not made for that purpose. Nothing remotely scary, or supernatural, happens for the first hour or so. And when the ghost does show up, he doesn’t do anything remotely frightening. He sits by the fire, looking sad. He offers to give his wife a ride home. Never once does he try to attack her, or get her to confess her crime. He’s more annoying than terrifying. And just because a story has something supernatural in it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically horror. Hamlet, Macbeth, and 2017’s A Ghost Story, which I reviewed here recently, all have specters, but no one would even think of calling them horror. So, when you really think about it, Empire of Passion doesn’t actually qualify as a scary movie. But if it’s not horror, then what is it? Well, the genre that it actually shares the most similarities with is tragedy. Like a tragedy, the film tracks the downfall of two people, and, also like a tragedy, their destruction is brought on by a hamartia, or fatal flaw. For Macbeth, the flaw is greed. For Hamlet, it is indecisiveness. For Seki and Toyoji, it is their inability to leave one another. Both are given numerous chances to flee, and yet, every time, they choose to stay. Their lust for one another is simply too great. Their lives are destroyed by sexual desire. For this reason, it might be best to classify Empire of Passion as an Erotic Tragedy, with elements of Horror thrown in.

So, now that we know the film’s genre, we must ask ourselves two questions; one, what does this tell us about the film’s message? And two, what is the film’s message? All works of art, even those without overtly political agendas, have messages. That’s because just about every work made by man attempts to teach us things. Even if the lessons are as basic as “don’t lie,” or “be grateful for what you have,” they are still, in a way, political. They are upholding a particular world view, and politics, at its core, is the discourse between differing world views. The genre of tragedy is especially effective at conveying messages, since the characters’ flaws–their greed, their dishonesty, their bigotry, etc–oftentimes articulate the author’s political opinions. Don’t kill kings. Don’t take what isn’t yours. Otherwise bad stuff will happen. That’s usually how it works. Occasionally, though, it’s not the characters flaws that illustrate the storyteller’s views. It’s what happens to them. In some tragedies, like The Crucible, the protagonists are, ultimately, moral people, and their flaw is the fact that they remain moral in an immoral world. Knowing the director, Nagisa Oshima, it’s safe to assume he meant for Empire Of Passion to be the latter kind of tragedy. A staunch leftist, and former student radical, Oshima always used his work to critique Japanese culture. From the government’s discrimination against the Korean minority (Death By Hanging), to its wartime atrocities (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence), to its strict censorship of sex and sexuality (In The Realm Of The Senses), Oshima always had something to say about Japan in his work. His stories tended to revolve around characters who were disillusioned with their surroundings, and so rebelled against them, only to be brought down, and to have the status quo restored. That’s the case in Empire Of Passion, where he seems to be suggesting that life is cyclical, and that, in the end, nothing we do really matters, since, in just a few short years, everything we did will be forgotten. Seki and Toyoji “rebel” against their small, isolated community by having an affair, and killing the former’s husband. But, by the end of the film, they are caught, and hanged, and life moves on. The movie doesn’t even end with their execution, which would have given their deaths some degree of weight and pathos. Instead, the story concludes with a shot of Toyoji’s mentally-challenged brother running through the town, as he was shown doing earlier in the film, and a voice over saying, in a rather blasé tone, that Seki and Toyoji were hanged, and that the community quickly forgot about them. The theme of life being cyclical is reinforced by a recurring visual motif; a spinning wheel. The film opens with a shot of a spinning wheel, and there are several points in the movie where we see other circular objects rotating. One of the few genuinely frightening moments in this picture occurs when Seki is sitting at home, and, out of nowhere, the wheels of her dead husband’s rickshaw start spinning. Even the story itself is cyclical, since we see the four seasons pass several times, and many of the same scenes–Seki and Toyoji having sex, Seki telling Toyoji to run–occur over and over again. All this reinforces the idea that the wheel of life keeps on spinning, regardless of what we do and who we are, which is the film’s central thesis.

So it’s a tragedy, whose main message is that life is cyclical. But is it pro or anti Feminist? That is the last, and trickiest, question, and is the most important in determining whether or not this film is worth remembering.

Determining whether or not Empire Of Passion is Feminist is a very difficult task, mostly because there is evidence to support either side of the equation. On the one hand, the film could be read as an argument against the liberation of women, and in favor of traditional, patriarchal values. In the movie, a lustful, deceitful woman cheats on her husband, kills him, and even neglects to take care of her infant child, all because she wants to have sex with a younger man. In this interpretation, Seki is a warning for other women to not leave the house, and to obey their husbands and fathers. Otherwise, bad stuff will happen to them, as it does to Seki. Not only does she wind up getting executed for her husband’s murder, she is also blinded, and repeatedly beaten and harassed by the police. Evidence for the anti-Feminist reading is most prevalent in the scene where Toyoji forces himself on Seki. It begins with her napping while cradling her infant son. Toyoji enters, gropes her while she’s unconscious, and then, when she wakes up, covers her mouth and drags her into the bedroom. We hear her say “no,” “don’t,” and “stop,” several times, and yet, when we cut to the inside of the bedroom, we see her on her back, enjoying the sensation of Toyoji going down on her. And we know that she enjoys it, because she hears the baby crying in the other room, and covers her ears to drown it out. This one scene encapsulates every backward, reactionary view that men have about women; that they enjoy being raped; that if they are given too much freedom, they’ll neglect their true responsibilities, like motherhood, etc. And yet, as disgustingly misogynistic as Empire Of Passion can be, there’s also more than enough evidence to read it as a feminist tragedy about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, finding the man of her dreams, and ultimately being punished by society for being happy. As mentioned earlier, Empire’s director, Nagisa Oshima, was a well-known leftist, renowned for despising both patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The sexual desires of women was something he was deeply interested in, actually going so far as to make a documentary on the subject for Japanese television. Knowing this, certain scenes that would otherwise feel like throwaways–Seki’s husband talking to their grown up daughter, Shin, some women from the village gossiping about Seki–take on greater significance. The former scene, especially, lends itself well to a feminist reading of the film. In it, Seki’s husband tells Shin that she shouldn’t bother with school, or with dreams. “Your mother had dreams once,” he says, “Eventually, she learned to leave them behind. And she’s much better now.” This brief exchange casts a whole new light on Seki and Toyoji’s relationship. Now, instead of being an innocent victim, her husband comes off as a smug patriarch, forcing his wife to adhere to his beliefs about what she should be. His death is infinitely less tragic, and Seki and Toyoji’s relationship is considerably less monstrous. And yet, even with this scene, even with the knowledge that the director was a liberal who despised patriarchal societies, I don’t think I can say this film is feminist in its portrayal of sex and relationships. The biggest reason is that rape scene I mentioned. If Oshima wanted to tell a story about a repressed woman’s sexual awakening, why did he have to show her getting assaulted? That fundamentally undercuts any feminist reading the story could have had, since rape is one-sided. It does not consider the needs of the victim, in this case, Seki. If the point of the story is to show Seki giving in to her urges, and finally being able to explore her sexuality, why not have her be the one to initiate things? As it is, Seki is an extremely passive player in this story. She gets assaulted by Toyoji. She gets blackmailed into killing her husband. Nowhere in the film do we see her exhibiting any kind of agency. On top of that, the picture never really shows her enjoying herself. Every time she and Toyoji have sex, it’s because Toyoji wants it, no matter how dangerous, or inconvenient, it might be for Seki. And there are several scenes where he asks her to do things in bed, like shave off her pubic hair, that she doesn’t want to. And we know she doesn’t want to because we see her crying and looking miserable. So when you really look at the film, at the shots and lines of dialogue, any potential Feminist angle it might have crumbles into dust. And that’s not even getting into the director’s views on sex. See, even though Oshima was a leftist, he had some startlingly questionable views on consent. Some of his most famous films–Cruel Story Of Youth, In The Realm Of The Senses, this–feature female characters falling in love with the men who rape them. And one of his most acclaimed movies, Death By Hanging, is based on a real life case wherein a Korean man, Ri Chin’U, admitted to raping and murdering two little girls. Oshima held Ri Chin’U in high regard, despite his crimes, describing him as the most “intelligent and sensitive youth produced by post-war Japan.” Not only that, he believed that Ri’s writings, wherein he detailed exactly how and why he raped and killed these girls, should be taught in schools. Yes, schools. This, in my opinion, seriously weakens his credibility when it comes to telling stories about women’s sex lives. Because, clearly, he didn’t understand some very basic things. So, in the end, I don’t believe Empire of Passion is a Feminist Feature. Though it could have been, in someone else’s hands.

Having gone back and re-evaluated Empire Of Passion, I find myself in much the same position as before. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I can appreciate some of its messages, and craftsmanship, more. But, at the same time, it’s narrative flaws, and highly unpleasant treatment of female characters, have become all the more striking to me. For this reason, I don’t believe I can recommend this to you, even as an example of strong visual craftsmanship. Perhaps others will disagree. As for me, though, I’m quite happy to put this out of my mind, and never think of it again.

Chronicle (2012)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When an accident grants them telekinetic powers, three Seattle teens–bullied Andrew, slacker Matt, and popular Steve–find themselves drawn together. Initially, they use their abilities for harmless pranks, like moving people’s cars without them realizing, or levitating teddy bears to frighten little girls. But when Andrew, whose abusive home life has left him mentally scarred, begins exhibiting increasingly aggressive behavior, Matt and Steve realize that they might have to take him down.

Chronicle is well-written, well-acted, and visually-stunning. It’s got to be one of the best superhero films I’ve ever seen, and having grown up with franchises like The Dark Knight Trilogy and the MCU, that’s really saying something. Part of this is due to the fact that Chronicle does a superb job of creating that sense of awe that you should feel when you see characters doing incredible things. We’ve seen a man fly. But filmmakers have stopped showing us how cool–how utterly liberating and joyful–that is for him. Chronicle reminds us of how truly awesome it’d be to have superpowers; of all the incredible, and fun, things you could do with them. By far the best scenes in this movie are the ones where Steve, Matt and Andrew are just hanging out, and fooling around with their powers. Not only do these moments show off creative ways to use telekinesis, but they also give us a real sense for who these characters are, and make us like them as people. Andrew does some truly heinous things in this film, and yet, because the screenwriter tok the time to develop him, I never once lost faith. That, right there, is a sign of good writing.

Something else Chronicle does a really good job of is overcoming its genre and budget limitations. Shot in the “found footage” style on roughly $12 million, Chronicle offers up as many, if not more, thrills as big budget blockbusters. They’re able to do this by coming up with some really creative ways to get in complex, moving shots, like having the characters use their telekinesis to fly the camera around. Yes, there are moments where you notice some of the cheap-looking effects, but they are usually drowned out by how awesome what you’re seeing is. The “found footage” gimmick also works to the film’s advantage because, since this is ostensibly being shot by one person on a cheap camera, you feel like you’re actually witnessing a real thing that a real person is experiencing. And that makes all the incredible superhero stuff more plausible.

Guys, I really don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. It’s a low budget, “found-footage” film, which occasionally suffers from that genre’s limitations. But the strong performances, smart script, and excellent direction more than make up for those flaws, and deliver an original, visually-stunning, highly innovative superhero film. Give it a look as soon as you can.

Tag (2015)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Mitsuko has a problem. Everywhere she goes, someone, or something, inevitably winds up trying to kill her. First it’s a gust of wind, which slices all her classmates in half. Then it’s one of her teachers, who inexplicably opens fire on her students. And if that’s not bad enough, every time Mitsuko escapes one ordeal, she finds herself transported to a different reality; she starts off as a school girl in class, then changes to a bride on her wedding day, and ends as a runner in a marathon. Things come to a head when Mitsuko realizes that everything, all her existences, are just a video game being played by someone in another dimension, and that, if she wants to save herself and her friends, she’s going to have to do something unthinkable. Will she do it? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Tag is a movie I watched purely on a whim. I was browsing through the “Asian Horror” section of Netflix, and since films in that genre tend to be far more creative than your typical American slasher, I thought I’d give it a look. And while the picture certainly is innovative and out there, I was not prepared for the nightmarish insanity that is this movie. Perhaps if I’d been familiar with the writer/director, Sion Sono, before watching this, I’d have been less surprised. As it is, I was left both shaken and perplexed.

Now, in case you’ve never heard of him, Sion Sono is a Japanese director who is, in many respects, the brainy twin of Takashi Miike. Like Miike, Sono churns out tons of films, most of them violent, exploitative B movies. Also like Miike, most of Sono’s work is adapted from books and manga. And, finally, like Miike, Sono has gained a cult following outside Japan, particularly among fans of extreme cinema. But whereas Miike has made films in a variety of genres, including kid’s movies, musicals and period pieces, Sono tends to stay with the sick and bizarre. And unlike Miike, who tries to keep messages and politics out of his work, Sono always has something to say about Japanese society, or the relationship between men and women, in his films. His movies Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table both act as commentaries on social alienation, the gap between generations, and the influence of the internet. His most famous film, Love Exposure, tackles themes like religion, lust and family. And Strange Circus… No. No, that has no broader political message. It’s just fucked up. The point is, Sono likes to make statements with his films, and Tag is no exception. It has a lot to say about the way men view women, the way men treat women, and the way men portray women in media. And that’s all good. It’s just, well…

The film wants to be feminist. And, in concept, it is. It’s about a woman trapped in a world designed by men, standing up and saying, “fuck you! I’m not going to be your play thing anymore.” That idea is feminist, through and through. It’s just that, in terms of how that concept is executed, its slightly less “girl power,” and slightly more “girls gone wild.” There are several up skirt shots of the main characters’ panties. There are more than a few scenes where we watch her and her friends get undressed for no reason. The film does pass the bechdel test, with the girls talking about subjects other than men, but the subjects they do talk about–pillow fights, ice cream, sex–are so cliched, and so clearly the product of male imagination, that you can’t help but roll your eyes in certain moments. Also, for a movie that professes to empower and support women, it does seem to relish killing them in extremely gruesome, and sexual, ways. There’s one scene where a girl gets butchered by a crocodile, which jumps out of the water and bites through her vagina. And that’s one of the milder deaths. Now, maybe this is all deliberate. Maybe all the sexual violence, fan service cinematography, and stereotypical “girly” dialogue are there to let us know that we’re in a man’s fantasy of what women are like. Maybe. And maybe Sion Sono, no matter how hard he tries, has fucked up fetishes that he can’t help but inject into his films. That might sound harsh, but when you consider how much of his filmography–Strange Circus, Love Exposure, Guilty Of Romance–involves rape, murder, torture and pedophilia, you start to question whether a man like him is capable of feminist thinking. For that reason, I can’t recommend this movie to you all.

Now, on the off chance that you don’t care about sexism, and just want to know if this is an enjoyable, well-made film, I have to say no. The special effects are extremely cheap looking. The acting is over the top. And because the main character keeps switching realities, you never get a true sense for her, or any of her other identities. You’re too busy trying to make sense of watts’ going on. Now, that being said, the film has potential. The concept of a video game character realizing that he or she is stuck in a destructive reality he or she has no control over, and deciding to fight back, is both fascinating and original. The fact that the movie wants to talk about the way men treat and portray women is to be admired. And, as cheap as some of the effects are, the film does, on the whole, look good, with there being some nice cinematography, and cool visual metaphors. Still, I don’t think any of this is enough to warrant a recommendation. If you want to watch the grind house pretend to be the art house, go ahead. Me; I’m not interested.

Unique Sci-Fi Films To Learn From

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Sci-Fi; It’s probably my favorite genre in cinema, and it’s certainly one of the most varied on Earth. Since it’s only parameters are that it must concern, “imagined future scientific or technological advances, or major social or environmental changes,” it is basically broad enough to encompass any story under the sun. Now, if you’re like me, you’re not content with simply reading or watching sci-fi. You want to make it as well. But, of course, one can’t simply jump head first into the creation of art. One must study the works of others, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then, using this newly acquired knowledge, go forth and invent. But what films should you watch? That’s what I asked myself when I concocted this list. What movies advanced the sci-fi genre with their unique story lines, innovative visual effects, and ability to get audiences to ponder moral and philosophical questions? These ones, my friend. Not only are none of them sequels, remakes or spin-offs, but each, in their own way, changed sci-fi forever, be it with their unique premises, narrative structures, or filmmaking techniques. They also cover the vast spectrum that sci-fi can encompass; from horror, to action, to comedy, to noir. I might not be a fan of all of them, but I do have to commend them for their originality and influence, and, for that reason, I must insist you all give them a look.

The Matrix (1999)

Directed By The Wachowskis

What’s it about? Neo is a hacker who’s always sensed that there’s something wrong with the world; something not quite real. Then, when he is contacted by a mysterious man known as Morpheus, he learns that his suspicions are correct. There is something wrong with the world. It is, in fact, an illusion; a simulation generated by living machines to keep humans subservient. A select few people have been freed from this dream world, referred to by all as “the matrix,” and are now dedicating everything they have to fighting the machines. Neo decides to join their ranks, acquiring amazing skills, and uncovering some surprising secrets about himself, in the process.
What makes it unique? The matrix was one of the first big budget American films to touch upon the idea that our world is an illusion, and to play with what living in a computer-generated reality would be like. What rules could you bend? What rules could you break? It was also one of the first western sci-fi films to draw heavily from East Asian cinema, particularly Hong Kong action movies and anime. The elaborate Kung Fu fight sequences, cyberpunk visuals, these were things that American audiences hadn’t experienced before. The movie also pioneered certain special effects, like bullet time, and helped set a precedent for other action movies to follow; that being that films with gun fights, car chases and explosions didn’t have to be dumb. They could feature unique, thoughtful ideas. They could reference literature, and various philosophical concepts, such as Plato’s allegory of the cave, and choice versus destiny.

District 9 (2009)

Directed By Neill Blomkamp

What’s it about? When a massive UFO lands over Johannesburg, South Africa, a number of starving, destitute aliens are found inside. The creatures, referred to condescendingly as “prawns,” claim to have no knowledge of how to fly their ship, or use their technology. They beg the humans to grant them asylum, and the humans do so, but it doesn’t take long for interspecies hostility to arise. The aliens are herded into a massive ghetto, District 9, and forbidden from ever leaving, or interacting with people. But even this is not enough, as Johannesburg’s residents demand that the government force the aliens to go somewhere else. The film follows Wikus van der Merwe, an Afrikaner bureaucrat, whose been given the task of removing all the aliens from district 9. Wikus is initially disdainful of the aliens, and more than happy to see them go, but after an accident in district 9 starts to cause him to mutate, he finds himself forced to work with an alien, Christopher, who wants to return to his home world.
What makes it unique? District 9 is one of the few sci-fi films set in Africa, and one of even fewer films, period, to comment on Apartheid. It is also unique because, unlike many other sci-fi films, it is presented as a documentary, complete with fake interviews, stock footage and various other details one would normally see in non-fiction cinema. All this works to create a greater sense of realism, and helps ground this seemingly preposterous premise in plausibility. It’s also very rare for a movie to feature humans wanting to keep aliens on earth. Most other movies involve the humans wanting to force them off the planet. In District 9, though, the humans are determined to keep the aliens away from their space ship and away from their technology.

Inception (2010)

Directed By Christopher Nolan

What’s it about? In a world where humans can enter each other’s dreams, Dominic Kobb uses this technology to steal from CEOs. But when one of his intended targets catches and blackmails him, he finds himself forced to do the impossible, implant an idea, instead of just take one. Success means finally being able to go home to his children. Failure means life in prison, with no chance of parole. With the task, and stakes , firmly in place, Kobb assembles his team, and sets about planning their special reverse heist. But when they finally enter their target’s Mind, they find something unexpected, and terrible, waiting for them.
What makes it unique? Though the idea of entering people’s dreams had been explored in movies prior to Inception’s release, this was one of the first pictures to examine the concept in thorough, visual detail. The different levels of the human psyche, the means through which one can establish that something isn’t real, how time passes in the dream, all these are explained, and utilized, in the film. The movie also boasts some of the most Mind-blowing visual effects ever put to film. These include a sequence wherein two men fight each other in a rotating corridor, and a zero gravity moment where a group of people are tied together and forced into an exploding elevator.

Snow Piercer (2013)

Directed By Bong Joon-Ho

What’s it about? The world has become a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and the occupants of said train are divided based on what car the live in. Those in the front live in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only for those in the front to beat them back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. And they mean to go all the way to the front, where they intend to seize control of the trains eternal engine, and thus, the world.
What makes it unique? Not only is this the world’s first big budget Korean sci-fi movie, it’s also one of the few dystopian films to take place on a train, and depict dystopia in a realistic manner. Cannibalism, mass suicide, drug addiction, these are some of the ugly truths of a post apocalyptic scenario that are openly addressed in this film, and which are rarely seen in other dystopian action movies. The film also has a startlingly somber ending, with there not being any real victory for the Tail Enders and everyone more or less dying, as they would in real life. The designs for the various cars is also incredible, with the seafood and aquatic life car deserving an extra special mention. The film also does a good job of getting its viewers to consider what is necessary for a society to thrive, the steps that have to be taken for balance to be maintained, and various other philosophical queries.

Alien (1979)

Directed By Ridley Scott

What’s it about? While making their way home from a job in deep space, the crew of the spaceship Nostromo receive a distress beacon from a nearby planet. When they arrive there, however, they find the place completely deserted. No plants. No animals. No intelligent life. What they do find, however, is a series of large, bird-like eggs, one of which hatches, releasing a small, squid like creature that attaches itself to the face of a crew member. Though they do manage to remove it, they quickly learn that their trials are nowhere close to being over, as another, more horrifying, monster bursts from his chest and begins terrorizing them.
What makes it unique? Alien was one of the first, if not the first, horror movies to take place in outer space. Sure, there had been movies about monsters from other worlds landing on Earth, and horrifying creatures birthed by science prior to this film, but this was the first to bring people into am alien environment, the cosmos. It took advantage of the fact that the victims are literally trapped inside a confined space, because, if they leave it, they’ll die. They can’t run away. So they’ve got to stay and deal with this creature. The film also does a great job of exploring the anxiety that accompanies going to a new place and encountering new things. We, like the victims, are never given context for what this creature is, where it comes from, or how to deal with it. And there is nothing more frightening than the unknown. The film also stands out as a chilling and effective rape metaphor. The vaginal architecture of the main spaceship, the penis-like design of the creature’s head, the fact that it is “born” from the chest of a man who was assaulted by a face hugger: all this indicates that we are meant to think of the film and it’s horrors in a sexual context. The film is also unique in its portrayal of gender roles. The main hero is a smart, competent woman. A man gets “raped” by a female monster. No one is given traditionally masculine or feminine jobs based on their gender. All this makes the film unique,both for its time, and now.

The Terminator (1984)

Directed By James Cameron

What’s it about? In the future, a sentient defense system, Skynet, has all but wiped out the human race. Only a few people remain, and they are led by John Connor, a brilliant strategist with a knack for destroying Skynet’s forces. Hoping to change the past, and undo his existence, Skynet sends a cyborg assassin, or Terminator, back to the year 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah. Unbeknownst to Skynet, however, Connor has sent back an assassin of his own, young Kyle Reese, a soldier who has sworn to protect Sarah, and stop the Terminator, at all costs.
What makes it unique? This film helped set the standard for how action could be shot, and how practical special effects could be used. Many of the film’s sequences, like the car chase, and visuals, like the terminator’s robotic eye, old up to this day. The film also did a great job of setting up mystery and tension. The audience, like Sarah, doesn’t know what’s going on, or who these men are that are following her, until about halfway through. The film also does a great job of playing with the concept of time travel, and choice versus destiny. Skynet sends the Terminator back in time to kill Sarah , so that John Connor won’t be born. But by doing so, it motivated John to send back Kyle Reese, the man who would become his father, in the first place. So was it chance? Or was it design?

Blade Runner (1982)

Directed By Ridley Scott

What’s it about? In a dystopian Los Angeles, the Tyrell Corporation manufactures humanoid robots, or replicants, to perform tasks too dangerous for ordinary people. However, the use of replicants is illegal in Earth, so whenever they are found on the blue planet, special assassins known as Blade Runners are deployed to kill, or “retire,” them. When four recently escaped replicants arrive on Earth, Blade Runner Rick Deckerd is given the task of “retiring” them. But as he tracks them down, and does more research into the Tyrell corporation, and the nature of replicants in general, he finds himself questioning their, as well as his own, humanity.
What makes it unique? Though a critical and box office flop at the time of its release, Blade Runner’s dark style, futuristic designs, and themes of identity and free will have had resounding impacts across the sci-fi genre. Everything from TV shows–Battlestar Galactica–to anime–Ghost In The Shell–to video games–Cypher–has, in some way, been influenced by this film’s look, tone, or ideas. And for good reason. Nearly forty years after its release, the effects and sets of Blade Runner hold up as some of the best in cinematic history. The movie is also unique in terms of its genre. With its grizzled protagonist, Los Angeles setting, and dark, morbid tone, Blade Runner is one of the first examples of a genre known as future noir, meaning film noir set in a sci-if context. It’s also one of the first films to get its hero, and it’s audience, to ask the question, “what is it that makes us human?”

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Directed By Mamoru Oshii

What’s it about? In the future, the line between man and machine has blurred. Virtually everyone has been “enhanced” in some way–be it possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in some cases, entire bodies. These individuals are referred to as “ghosts,” or living consciences, in “shells,” their robotic bodies. Motoko Kusunagi, an officer in the elite crime fighting unit, Section 9, is one such entirely enhanced individual,and she often finds herself questioning her own humanity. One night, while carrying out an assassination on a foreign diplomat, she sees the man’s interpreter get hacked by a mysterious individual known as “the puppet master,” and she and her team set out to catch him. But as she gets closer to solving the case, and uncovers more and more about the puppet master and his scheme, she finds herself questioning her own purpose, free will, and existence.
What makes it unique? Everything about Ghost in the shell, from its gothic, philosophical tone, to its Hong Kong-inspired, cyberpunk setting, to its unusual technology–people with USB ports in the back of their heads, and mechanical fingers that can break down into smaller, pincer like appendages–was unheard of, and revolutionary, at the time of its release. The impact that the movie had on science fiction, and pop culture in general, cannot be overstated. Countless other films–The Matrix, Avatar, Surrogates–have been directly inspired by this movie. And, to this day, it is held up, not simply as one of the best animated films of all time, but one of the best movies of all time. The film is also very unique in how it deals with gender and sexuality. This is a future where sexual reproduction is all but gone, and where mechanical replication has taken its place. Motoko, though technically a woman, has an entirely robotic body, which does not menstruate, and therefore does not view herself as a sexual being. She’ll often undress in front of other people, without ever acknowledging how that might effect them. And yet, she’s never reduced to eye candy. She’s considerably more rough and commanding than her male counterparts, and finds herself questioning femininity and what it means to be a woman. There’s a great scene where she’s walking through a mall, and sees a dummy in a department store window that looks exactly like her. This deeply effects her, because she, being almost entirely robotic, feels like a doll, like a replication, or pale imagination, of what a woman should be. The film also uses lots of imagery that’s evocative of birth and sexual reproduction, and really haunts you with its queries into what it means to be alive, conscious and female. The movie was also one of the first sci-fi films to comment on the internet, and how our reliance on technology has cause us to become detached from each other.

Back To The Future (1985)

Directed By Robert Zemeckis

What’s it about? It’s 1985, and Marty Mcfly is just your average American teenager. He’s got a girlfriend, a family, a best friend in the form of his neighbor, mad scientist Emmett Brown, and a pocket full of dreams as a rock star. But Marty’s hopes aren’t high, as he’s seen by more or less everyone, including himself, as a loser. He’s failing in school, his band isn’t getting noticed, and his parents are both spineless and neglectful. If only there were something he could do. Well, as chance would have it, Doc Brown calls him out to the mall one night to show him something special. The something special in question turns out to be a time traveling DeLorean, which Marty decides to take for a spin. But when Marty finds himself transported back to 1955, and Doc winds up murdered by Libyan terrorists–long story–the former must find a way to get himself back to the future, and, hopefully, change the past so that his life will be better.
What makes it unique? Not only was this the highest grossing film of 1985, not only was it vital in helping to create the skateboarding subculture, not only was it quoted by the president in his 1986 state of the union address, but In a genre dominated by dark, brooding stories full of deep, philosophical queries, Back To The Future offers a more light-hearted, comedic take on science fiction. It’s also one of very few films in which a character interacts with his parents when they are the same age as him, and that hinges upon him getting them together so that he will even exist.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)

Directed By Steven Spielberg

What’s it about? One night, while bringing home a pizza, a ten year old boy named Elliot sees a bizarre alien creature hiding in his tool shed. Though the being promptly flees, Elliot manages to lure it back to his room with Reese’s pieces candy, and the two become friends. Elliot learns that the creature, whom he and his siblings refer to as “E.T.” Is an alien botanist who was stranded on Earth when government agents found his spaceship, and that he has many powers,including reanimating plants, and telekinesis. Elliot vows to return ET to his own people, and keep him hidden from the government and army, tasks which prove considerably more difficult when he discovers that the two of them have become psychically linked.
What makes it unique? Like Back To The Future, E.T. The Extraterrestrial stands out as a more lighthearted, family friendly entry in the sci-fi genre. Most of the time, Aliens are shown as strange, terrifying monsters who want to kill or eat humans. But not in this film. Here, they are shown as intelligent, loving, and with distinct personalities and jobs. The story is all about friendship, about the bond that Elliot has with this visitor from another world. This is also one of very few sci-fi films, not made specifically for children, that stars children, and that portrays children in a realistic manner. There’s absolutely no dumbed down, sugar-coated baby talk in this picture. The kids in this movie shout, swear, lie, sneak booze, pull pranks, and behave like real kids do. And that’s always nice, and refreshing, to see. The film also possesses many now iconic moments, like the one where ET, using his telekinesis, lifts Elliot’s bike off the ground, and flies them in front of the moon, an image that has been parodied in countless other forums.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed By Michel Gondry

What’s it about? Ever had a bad break up? Ever wish you could just erase certain memories, or people, from your head? Well, in this world, you can. And that’s precisely what Joel does after he and his girlfriend clementine split up. He goes into Lacuna, a company that specializes in memory erasure, and undergoes a procedure wherein all his experiences with Clementine are removed from his mind. As he does so, however, both he and the technicians operating on him start to learn about the importance of remembering things, even painful things, and set off on individual missions to recreate the past.
What makes it unique? Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind is one of only two sci-fi films–the other being Her–to win the academy award for best screenplay. And for good reason. The film’s nonlinear structure, likable, well- rounded characters, and unique explorations of memory and the past help it stand out, not simply as a work of science fiction, but as a story in general. The movie also does a very good job of getting us to consider what it would be like to live in a world where one could erase other people’s memories, as well as your own. Would you use other’s lost memories to blackmail or seduce them? Would you get others, and yourself, to forget your most shameful mistakes? Would you, by not remembering the things that you’d done, make the same mistakes over and over again? Science fiction has, since it’s inception, been used as a creative means of getting people to think, and Eternal Sunshine does that beautifully.

Her (2013)

Directed By Spike Jonze

What’s it about? In the future, Theodore Twombly is a depressed letter writer, going through a messy divorce. At the behest of a friend, he purchases a Sentient Operating System, or OS, to help organize his life and schedule. Because OS’s are designed to suit their individual owner’s needs and preferences, Theodore’s system, Samantha, ends up being everything he could ever hope for in a woman. And, much to the chagrin of his friends and ex-wife, he winds up falling in love with her. But seeing as Samantha is just a voice on a computer, their relationship is anything but easy, and, as time goes by, Theodore begins to realize that maybe this isn’t the best thing for him.
What makes it unique? Like Eternal Sunshine before it, Her holds the rare distinction of being a sci-fi film that won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s also unique for being one of the first mainstream films to show a romantic relationship between a man and a computer, something that is especially relevant now in our social media obsessed age. And while I myself might not enjoy some of the script’s attempts at humor, and the more bizarre aspects to the story, the movie is undeniably original, both in concept, and execution. For that reason, it should be noted as a unique work of science fiction.

Minority Report (2002)

Directed By Steven Spielberg

What’s it about? In 2054, Captain John Anderton heads “PreCrime,” a special unit of the DC police department that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “pre cogs.” Anderton’s team has been so effective at stopping murder that the federal government is seriously considering adopting PreCrime’s method on the national level. While the Department of Justice is investigating PreCrime for any possible errors, however, the pre cogs predict that Anderton will murder someone in the next 36 hours. Anderton, claiming that this is a set up, since he doesn’t even know the person he’s supposed to kill, goes on the run, and, at this point, it is revealed that the pre cogs aren’t always uniform in their perception of things to come. From time to time, PreCrime receives a so-called “Minority Report,” wherein one of the pre cogs predicts an alternate future. Realizing that this could prove his innocence, Anderton goes on the run, determined to find the report and clear his name.
What makes it unique? As stated before, science fiction, at it’s best, is supposed to get audiences to consider various moral and philosophical questions, and Minority Report does that extremely well. For while a story about someone being framed for a crime is hardly original, it is far less common to see a story about someone getting framed for a crime that hasn’t even happened yet. This raises a whole bunch of fascinating questions: are we justified in imprisoning people who haven’t, technically, done anything? If we can predict future events, and stop them from happening, would they have actually happened at all? Is the future set? Do we have any free will? All of these questions are addressed in thorough detail throughout the film, which sets it above many other pictures with similar premises. The movie also does a great job of getting the audience to consider issues like privacy in a media-dominated world, and the nature of self perception. And none of this is even getting into the look of the movie, which, with its washed out color palette, holographic screens, and advanced vehicles, stands out as yet another classic example of future noir.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Directed by Robert Wise

What’s it about? When a UFO lands in Washington DC, and a humanoid alien emerges, no one knows what to do. Does he come in peace? Does he come as a conquerer? People are so nervous that before the alien, Klaatu, can speak, they shoot him, temporarily rendering him unconscious. After he is brought to a hospital and revived, however, he demands to be taken to Earth’s leaders, but is told that the world is too divided for him to do that. “There is no way that such a thing can be done,” they tell him. This, however, does not dissuade Klaatu, who leaves the hospital, disguised as a regular human, and walks amongst us, hoping to get a better sense for our species. And all the while this is happening, Klatu’s indestructible robot guard, Gort, watches the humans, a silent sentinel with unknown powers and intentions.
What makes it unique? Though its very much of its time, with the central themes being mankind’s fear of nuclear annihilation, and the need for global unity, The Day The Earth Stood Still stands out as an unorthodox portrayal of alien visitors. For while most films show aliens looking totally different from us, and arriving on Earth as conquerers, refugees, or simply by mistake, Klatu looks completely human, and comes to Earth as an emissary of peace. He’s here to get us to stop fighting one another; to stop building weapons of mass destruction. Yes, his message is downright obvious by today’s standards, but, back in the 50s, when the Cold War was in full swing, and when fear of nuclear annihilation was a very real thing, such stories really resonated with people. And to this day, Klaatu and his mission stand out as very unique in the sci-fi genre. We’ve had many alien invaders, but not so many alien ambassadors. And the fact that this film has one makes it worth mentioning.

Metropolis (1927)

Directed By Fritz Lang

What’s it about? In the futuristic dystopia of Metropolis, wealthy industrialist reign from high rise complexes, while poor workers labor below ground to keep the machines that power the city running. Freder, the bored son of the city’s ruler, spends all his time in pleasure gardens, never interacting with common people, or knowing what to do with himself. His world changes, however, when he sees a young woman, Maria, taking a group of children on a field trip to see how the rich live. Instantly taken with her, Freder leaves the comfort of the high rise complexes to find her on the lower levels, where he becomes aware, for the first time in his life, of the horrible conditions in which the poor live. Realizing that he must do something, and hearing a prophecy that says a mediator will one day come, and bring together the rich and the poor, Freder sets out to help the workers and change Metropolis. Unbeknownst to him, however, are other forces, which have their own agendas, and which threaten his and Maria’s love.
What makes it unique? This was one of the first, if not the first, feature length movies in the sci-fi genre. Never before had a film depicted the future in such grand, exquisite, and thorough detail. It set the standard for every science fiction film to follow. Everything about its style and look, from the giant, gothic skyscrapers, to the flying cars, to the humanoid robots, has been replicated or mimicked in other works. C-3PO’s design from the original Star Wars is taken from Metropolis. Madonna’s music video “Express Yourself” draws heavily from Metropolis. Lady GaGa, Queen, Cult of Luna–all have adopted the aesthetic of Metropolis in some form or another. Metropolis also set the precedent of sci-fi movies using allegories and alternate realities to comment on real-world issues, with many critics in the 20s actually saying that the film was pro-Communist. And as if it didn’t set the standard for subsequent sci-fi enough with its visuals and messages, Metropolis also set a precedent for future films, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing, by being under appreciated at the time of its release. In short, if you want to see where the modern sci-fi movie began, look no further than this silent masterpiece.

Original Versus Remake: OldBoy

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Remakes–they’re everywhere nowadays. Sometimes they’re interesting improvements over the original films, like the Coen Brothers’ interpretation of True Grit. And sometimes they’re incredibly pointless and stupid, like Jan De Bont’s take on The Haunting. Either way, remakes have been around for as long as there’s been cinema, and they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

But what causes a remake to succeed or fail? Why did Martin Scorsese’s remake of Infernal Affairs win Best Picture, and William Friedkin’s re-imagining of 12 Angry Men go completely unnoticed? Why do most people regard John Carpenter’s The Thing as superior to the original, black-and-white movie, and Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes as inferior to the film that came before it? To find the answers to these, and several more questions, I’ve decided to introduce a new segment on my blog called Original Versus Remake, or OVR. In it, I’ll compare an older film to it’s remake, and try to unpack why one is regarded as superior to the other. And what better film to start this new segment off with than OldBoy, a movie that has not only been remade, but I’ve also already reviewed here on this blog? (Well, okay, there are probably several others that would be just as good, but this is my blog, and I want to begin with OldBoy.)

Anyway, in case you haven’t heard of it, OldBoy is a 2003 South Korean revenge film. The basic plot goes like this; a drunken businessman is kidnapped on his daughter’s fifth birthday, and imprisoned in a cell that resembles a hotel room for fifteen years. During this time, he learns that, out in the real world, his wife has been murdered, and the police believe he’s the one who killed her. Then, after more than a decade behind bars, he is released, and sets out on a quest to prove his innocence, and find the one who locked him up. His searching leads him to a former classmate, who explains that he locked the businessman away because, when they were in high school, the businessman saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister killed herself because she couldn’t endure all the slut-shaming she was being put through, and this, in turn, caused her brother/lover to go crazy with revenge. The businessman apologizes for what he did, but says that the classmate should kill himself, as he’s had his revenge. The classmate then reveals what his true revenge was, getting the businessman to unwittingly commit incest with his daughter. See, while searching for the man who locked him up, the businessman met, and slept with, a young woman, who was actually his daughter. This revelation shocks and horrifies the businessman, who cuts out his own tongue as a sign of penance. The film ends ambiguously, with the businessman getting a hypnotist to alter his memories so he doesn’t know the truth, but the audience not being able to tell if the procedure actually worked.

OldBoy was a critical and commercial success when it came out back in 2003, grossing $15 million against a $3 million budget, and many American newspapers and critics hailing it as the greatest Korean movie ever made. So, naturally, with Hollywood being the soulless money machine that it is, an American remake was inevitable. And, wouldn’t you know it, in 2013, one such remake came out. Directed by Spike lee, and starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, the American version was a failure in every respect, making a mere $4.9 million against a $30 million budget, and critics slamming it as a pale, shallow imitation of the original. But was it? Well, let’s compare the two films, and find out.

First off: the acting. Both the Korean and American casts do superb jobs. They convey the rage, sorrow, confusion and anguish that these characters are enduring beautifully. I honestly don’t think there’s a bad actor in either film. But, in the end, the acting in the Korean original does stand slightly above that in the American remake, and for one major reason; the portrayal of the main antagonist. In the Korean version, the villain is played by Yoo Ji-tae, who’s performance can best be described as suave, yet deadly. He always seems calm and in control, constantly talking with a smug little smile on his face. He really seems like he’s ten steps ahead of you, because, guess what? He is ten steps ahead of you. He never loses his cool, or flies into a stereotypical villainous rage, except for one time in an internet cafe, but, even then, it’s brief, and he quickly regains his composure. All in all, Yoo’s smugness and icy exterior make him a more formidable opponent, because he does seem like a guy who’s got his shit together, and won’t slip up and let you win. That’s the kind of guy who’s got enough control and foresight to plan something this elaborate and devious. That’s a worthy opponent. The villain in the American version, by contrast, is emotionally unstable, whiney, and kind of cartoonish. He’s portrayed by South African actor Sharlto Copley, who screams, cries, and twitches a lot. Also, he does a really bad British accent, which just gets annoying after a while. His version of the character does seem like the type of guy who’d lose his shit and give you the chance to win, because he kind of does that in the movie. He doesn’t seem like he’d have the foresight to plan something as elaborate and devious as what’s portrayed in the film. He doesn’t seem like a worthy opponent. And that’s the main reason why the acting in the original OldBoy is superior to the acting in the remake, the villain is played in a more subtle and nuanced manner.

But acting is just one part of a film? What about the directing? Well, both versions of OldBoy were helmed by established directors with distinct visions and artistic styles. 2003’s OldBoy was directed by Park Chan-Wook, a man famous for making ultra-violent, morbid revenge films, usually on small budgets. His movies have immaculately framed shots, dark color pallets, and elements of black comedy mixed in with all the bloodshed. 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, was directed by Spike Lee, a man most famous for making movies about race relations, and issues within the Black community. His movies tend to have exaggerated color pallets, over-the-top acting and dialogue, lots of slanted shots, and perfectly centered extreme close ups. I was honestly quite shocked when I heard that he was going to be directing the new OldBoy, because, none of his movies, before or since, have been as dark or violent as Park’s film. The closest he’s come to anything like it is his movie Inside Man, which is a crime thriller. But, even then, the whole conceit of Inside Man is that everything is a ruse. No one actually gets hurt or killed. So how was he supposed to remake a movie with some of the most gruesome fight and torture scenes ever? But, hey, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean they can’t be good at it. Martin Scorsese hadn’t made a kid’s film before Hugo, and it turned out to be great. So, who was I to say that Spike Lee wasn’t up to the task of making an ultra-violent revenge film with themes of incest and child abuse? Someone who was absolutely right in that assumption, because the way he directed his film doesn’t hold a candle to the way Park directed his movie. 2013’s OldBoy feels very much like a Hollywood movie, with complicated, moving shots, elaborate sets, and highly choreographed fight sequences. It also tones down, or flat out removes, lots of the original’s odder moments. If you’ve ever seen 2003’s OldBoy, you know that there’s some weird shit in it, like people eating live octopus, people fantasizing about riding the train with man-sized insects, and people getting down on all fours and acting like dogs. You don’t see any of that in Spike Lee’s film. And while I can understand the desire to get rid of the weirder elements that wouldn’t play well to an American audience, shooting the movie the way he did, and removing much of the darker, more bizarre content, kind of undermines the story. OldBoy is supposed to be really dark, really gritty, and really weird. Park was able to achieve a greater feeling of realism by having whole scenes be shot in one take, and using lots of hand-held camera, and his inclusion of those odd scenes really helped set OldBoy apart from other, generic revenge flicks. And while I don’t usually like hand-held camera, because I think it makes the movie hard to watch, it served a purpose here, and I believe that, by removing it, and using more elaborate, hollywood type shots, Spike Lee removed much of what made OldBoy unique to begin with. So, all in all, the directing in the original is also superior.

But what truly makes or breaks a movie is the story; how its told, how it ends, etc. You can have a great idea, but execute it in a horrible manner, just as you can have a horrible idea, but convey it with enough style and wit to make it great. Both versions of OldBoy have the same basic plot; asshole gets locked up, seeks revenge, unwittingly commits incest with daughter, etc. But these films tell that story in two drastically different manners. And the manner in which 2003’s OldBoy tells that story is unquestionably superior. For starters, it presents the protagonist in a more positive, and, by extension, relatable, light. He’s still an asshole, but not as much of an asshole as in the 2013 version. The only real scene in which he behaves like a jerk is at the beginning, where he drunkenly acts out in a police station. But, even then, the dialogue in this scene makes it perfectly clear that the reason he’s acting out is that he’s trying to get home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. So, already, we have a reason to care about him. Yes, he’s a drunken buffoon, but he’s a drunken buffoon who loves his daughter. This makes it easier for us to care about him when things go wrong, and give us a reason to want to see him prevail. In 2013’s OldBoy, by contrast, we aren’t given any reason to like, or care about the protagonist. The first fifteen minutes are just a series of scenes in which he acts like a dick to everyone. He insults his boss, hits on his client’s wife, refuses to go to his daughter’s birthday, and calls the mother of his child a “bitch.” By the time he gets locked up, we really hate him, and it’s kind of cathartic to watch him get his comeuppance. We don’t want to see him prevail, and are therefore uninterested in watching the rest of the plot unfold. Another poor storytelling choice that the American version made was to change the villain’s motivation. As I said before, the reason why the villain in the Korean version locked the protagonist up was the fact that, when they were younger, the protagonist saw him having incestuous sex with his sister, and told everyone about it. The sister then committed suicide, and the villain vowed revenge. This explanation makes sense, because the villain was in love with his sister, and was therefore heartbroken to lose her. We can understand this. We can understand someone being angry over losing a person they love. What we can’t understand is the explanation the villain gives us in the American version. There, rather than have the protagonist see the villain having sex with his sister, he sees her having sex with some random dude. The dude, as the villain explains, was their father, who was having sex with both of them, and who eventually decided to kill everyone in his family to avoid potential embarrassment. But this explanation doesn’t make sense. The protagonist didn’t know who the man was. Why, then, would anyone care if he told people about seeing some random girl having sex with some random guy? There’s nothing scandalous, or worth committing suicide over in that statement. It’s a lot less interesting to say “hey, I saw so and so having sex with a random dude,” than to say, “hey, so and so is banging his sister.” Plus, this explanation barely includes the villain, and fails to give him a valid reason for acting. He’s not the one the protagonist saw. He’s not the one in love with the girl who died. Why, then, does he hate the protagonist so much? This new explanation is so complicated, and so flimsy, that if you stop to think about it at all, it collapses in on itself. But by far the worst storytelling choice that the American remake made was to change the ending. In the Korean version, the protagonist gets a hypnotist to alter his memories. He embraces his daughter, who says that she loves him, though we’re not sure whether she means that as a father, or as a lover, and the protagonist smiles, only to have his expression change to one of sorrow, leading us to question whether or not the procedure worked. It’s powerful. It’s ambiguous. It’s the perfect way to end a twisted and warped story, where we’re constantly questioning what’s going on. What isn’t perfect is the ending in the American version. There, instead of consulting a hypnotist (because, lord knows, that’s way too silly for an American movie), the protagonist pays the same people who locked him up to do so again, so that he never has to tell his daughter the truth. The final shot is of him smiling contentedly. He’s not traumatized. He’s not insane. He’s genuinely happy. This ending has none of the ambiguity, or tragedy, of the Korean original, and is the final, and conclusive, piece of evidence proving that the story is told better in that film.

Thank you all for reading my first installment of OVR, or Original Versus Remake. I’ll have my reviews of recent releases, like Finding Dory, and The Neon Demon, up very soon.

I hope you all are having wonderful summers. If you like what you’ve read, please like this post, and follow my blog.