Alien: Covenant (2017)

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

While en route to a new world, a group of interstellar colonists receive a transmission from a nearby planet. After analyzing the signal, they realize that its human in origin, and that the planet its coming from might have ideal living conditions. Deciding that this is too good an opportunity to pass up, the Captain sends down a small group to investigate. At first, everything goes just fine; the source of the transmission, a crashed space ship, is discovered without incident, and the world itself is rather hospitable. Things quickly devolve, however, when a member of the team is infected by a bizarre black fungus, which causes him to birth an aggressive alien monster. And if that’s not bad enough, the crew are found by a survivor of the crashed ship, who may, or may not, want to do them harm.

Alien: Covenant is not a movie I planned on seeing. It’s not that I dislike the Alien franchise; quite the opposite. I think 1979’s Alien is one of the most important movies ever made, and mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to make sci-fi. But I, and most other people, agree that each of its sequels fell in terms of quality, and that there are way, way too many remakes and spin-offs coming out these days. I’d much rather go support original films, like Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, which comes out in June, and Max Landis’s Bright, which comes out in December. But after my girlfriend told me she wanted to see it, I decided, “what the hell? It’s an Alien movie. It can’t be that bad.” Oh, how wrong I was.

Now, just to be clear, this is not a terrible movie. The acting is good, and the production design and visual effects are very impressive, as you expect from a film with this big a budget. But when it comes to story and characterization, its got nothing new to bring to the table. Not only does it hit all the same beats as 1979’s Alien–crew receives transmission, investigates, gets chased by a monster–but it lacks what made the first film so special; interesting characters and an original premise. We’d never seen alien’s bursting from people’s chests before Alien. We’d never seen people being hunted by a monster in a spaceship before Alien. Now, though, in 2017, we have seen that. A lot. So the concept alone isn’t enough to get us invested. And while it’s absolutely true that no story, or characters, are ever truly original, good filmmakers are at least able to make them interesting by giving them quirks, interests, or engaging arcs. Not in Alien: Covenant. I didn’t care about anyone in the movie. I couldn’t even remember their names. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I learned more about these characters from the ad campaign, which featured fake video blogs, wherein they told us a little bit about themselves. That’s not good. And as is always the case with horror movie sequels, less emphasis is placed on tension and suspense than on body count and gore. But what really drove the nail in the coffin for me on this picture was how boring it was. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either, but, at several points in the film, I was yawning. A movie about parasitic extraterrestrials that burst from people’s chests should NOT be boring. That premise is inherently interesting. But, somehow, the filmmakers managed to make it dull, and for that reason, I cannot recommend this movie to you all.

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

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

In a dystopian, futuristic Tokyo, the line between humanity and technology has blurred. Virtually everyone is “enhanced” in some way, possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in the case of the film’s protagonist, an entire body. She is the first of her kind; a human consciousness, or “ghost,” inside an entirely robotic body, or “shell.” As such, she is stronger, faster, and more intelligent than regular people, and has absolutely no fear of death or injury, since she can just be rebuilt after being destroyed. This makes her the ideal police officer, and that’s precisely what she is, a member of the elite Crime Fighting Unit, Section 9, which takes down terrorists that threaten this new world. But when several high-ranking scientists of a prominent robotics firm wind up dead, and she and her teammates start investigating, she learns that there is more to her origin, and the man perpetrating these murders, than meets the eye.

Ghost In The Shell is not a movie I was looking forward to seeing. For starters, it’s a cartoon adaptation, and if films like Dragonball Evolution, The Last Airbender, and Speed Racer have taught us anything, its that cartoon adaptations tend to suck. Secondly, the film is directed by Rupert Sanders, the man behind Snow White and the Huntsman, a movie which I, and most other people, really didn’t like. And, finally, its starring Scarlet Johansen, an actress I’ve never been a fan of, and who is White, and yet, somehow, playing a Japanese character named Motoko Kusunagi. None of what I saw left me with much hope. And yet, I still went to go see it, partly because I’m an optimist who likes to believe things can turn out great, and partly because I don’t like to trash movies I’ve not actually seen. If I’m going to talk shit about a film, I’m going to do so based on my own viewing experience, and not what was said online. Well, I’ve seen Ghost In The Shell, and I can safely say, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s worse.

Now, before I launch into my many, many criticisms of this movie, I want to mention some positives, some things it did right. First of all, it’s beautiful to look at. The futuristic landscape, technology and costumes are all superb. There are some very impressive action sequences in this movie, and I have to give praise to the effects team, set designers and stuntmen for making this film as visually appealing as it is. Secondly, the score is appropriately eerie, and otherworldly sounding. It compliments the futuristic setting well, and helps provide certain moments with proper amounts of pathos. And, finally, the core concept of this film–people merging with technology, and questioning what makes them human as a result–is fascinating. So, from an audio, visual and conceptual standpoint, this film is great.

Such a shame, therefore, that the rest of the movie isn’t. Now, if any of you think I’m just harping on this movie because I’m Chinese-American, and they didn’t cast an Asian actress to play the lead role, you’re wrong. I don’t like the fact that they did that, and I’ll address that later on in this review, but, the truth is, most of my issues with the film are structural; acting, dialogue, pacing, etc. I’ll address those first, and then get on my soap box.

So, where to begin? The dialogue in this movie is terrible. There are so many corny, inhuman lines–“your boat, your refugee boat, was sunk by terrorists,” “you are reducing a complex human being to a mere machine,” “I will find him. I will kill him. It is what I was made to do”–that people in my theater were actually laughing. And while you might make the argument that those lines were written to be unnatural sounding, since most characters in this film are cybernetic ally enhanced, most of the film’s cheesy dialogue is given to entirely human characters. So it’s not the people in the film who don’t know how human beings talk. It’s the people who wrote the film. The acting is also extremely bad. Everyone delivers their lines in this stiff, stilted manner that just sounds weird. And, again, before you make the argument that this is a world where people are more machine than human, it’s worth noting that most of the actors–Pilou Asbeck, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han–speak English as a second language. There were several points in the film where they said awkward sounding sentences, and I could just tell that it was them struggling with the dialogue. The pacing is also all over the place. It goes from very fast, to very slow, and never manages to make the transition between the two seem natural. People in my theater were yawning, checking their phones, and even leaving after the forty minute mark, precisely because of how boring the movie got. That’s not good. All films, regardless of whatever political or artistic agenda might have spawned them, are meant to be entertaining. If a movie can’t get you invested, it’s not worth seeing. So, already, you should have a laundry list of reasons why not to see this movie. It’s boring, poorly acted, and the dialogue is atrocious. And that’s not even getting into the controversy surrounding this film.

In case you haven’t heard, a lot of people, myself included, were upset when they learned that a beloved Japanese anime, set in the Far East, with Asian characters, and distinctly Asian themes, was getting the Hollywood whitewash treatment. It all started when a photograph of Scarlet Johansen, her hair straightened, dyed black, and with CGI effects on her eyes to make her look more Asian, was posted on the internet. A lot of people got angry, and demanded that the filmmakers change their leading lady. But, rather than admit that they’d made a mistake, the director, the actors, and many angry trolls on the internet pushed back. They said we were overreacting. They said we were thin-skinned cry babies. They said that it wasn’t whitewashing, because the character is a robot, and robot’s don’t have racial identities. They said that it was necessary, because you can’t possibly make a big budget Hollywood movie without a White star headlining it. They said that it was totally fine for them to do it, because Japanese people, like the director of the original film, Mamoru Oshii, weren’t offended by Scarlet Johansen’s casting. And so on. And so on.

First of all, yes it is whitewashing. A Japanese character, with a Japanese name, whose entire storyline takes place in a futuristic Tokyo, is being played by a white woman. That’s the textbook definition of whitewashing; when a white person plays a character who isn’t white. Her being a robot doesn’t change that fact. Think of it this way; Superman is an alien. But if you were to ask anyone who looked at him what his race was, they’d say “white.” Because that’s what he is; a white alien. Same with Motoko Kusunagi. She’s a Japanese robot. Second of all, the notion that you can only make big budget blockbusters with white stars just isn’t true. Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes–they’ve all headlined major action and sci-fi franchises, and none of them are white. Thirdly, just because someone doesn’t find something offensive doesn’t mean it’s not bad. Many women, like Kellyanne Conway and Scottie Nell Hughes, weren’t offended by Donald Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comment. That doesn’t not make it vulgar and horrifying. And regarding the Japanese not being offended, it’s important to remember that Japan is an extremely homogenous nation. 98.5% of the population are the same race. Losing roles to White actors isn’t something Japanese actors need to worry about, because there are no White actors in the Japanese film industry. In America, however, where this film was made, and where its being marketed, that is a very real thing. Very, very few roles in American movies are written for Asian actors, and, very often, leading Asian characters will end up being played by White people. Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Linda Hunt in The Year Of Living Dangerously, Jim Sturgess in 21, Emma Stone in Aloha–the list goes on.

And yet, the truth is, you don’t need any of the facts I just listed to prove why the casting of Scarlet Johansen is wrong. The movie does that for you. See, for the first half of the film, she believes that her name is Mira Killian, and that she came to Japan as a refugee. But then, halfway through, she learns that none of that backstory was true. She wasn’t a refugee. She was born in Japan. Her name wasn’t Mira Killian. It was Motoko Kusunagi. And she wasn’t White. She was Asian, and then got turned White when they made her a robot. The filmmakers literally turned the whitewashing of Motoko’s character into a major plot point. That has got to be one of the dumbest, most insulting decisions they could possibly have made. Why, filmmakers who are taking heat for not casting an Asian woman, would you make it so that the character was Asian, but then got turned White? You’re literally proving all your critics right by doing so.

Guys, don’t watch Ghost In The Shell. I’m ashamed of myself for having given money to this thing. Don’t waste your time, or your dollars, on this insulting pile of garbage. Hopefully, if this film bombs hard enough, Hollywood will think twice about casting White people in major, POC roles.

Quiz Show (1994)

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

It’s 1958. Twenty One is ABC’s most popular quiz show, and Herb Stempel, a volatile nerd, is the reigning champion. Realizing that Herb’s popularity has plateaued, and that Charles Van Doren, a handsome young college professor, would bring in far more viewers, Producer Dan Enright rigs the show by feeding Van Doren the answers, and forcing Stempel to flub an easy question. Outraged, Stempel goes on the war path, suing Enright and ABC in federal court. His litigation catches the attention of Dick Goodwin, special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the House Of Representatives (a position absolutely as boring as it sounds), and the two embark on a quest to expose the fraudulent nature of both Twenty One, and all game shows. And now we have a big courtroom drama, directed by Robert Redford, and starring John Turturro.

Quiz Show is a film I’d never heard of before. I only became aware of its existence after I stumbled upon it while idly scrolling through the “period pieces” section on Netflix. I was shocked, to say the least. I mean, a big budget movie, made by a famous director, with top tier talent, that got good reviews, which I’d never heard of before? Impossible. Surely there was a mistake. Surely this film, which currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was some sort of unsung masterpiece; a diamond in the rough, if you will. I simply had to watch it. I had to spread the word; to make others aware of its brilliance. Well, having just sat down and watched Quiz Show, I can understand why no one remembers it, and why it bombed at the box office when it first came out.

IT’S SO BORING! I’m talking grass growing, paint drying, doing your taxes level dull. It’s about two and a half hours long, and a good chunk of it consists of scenes that add nothing to the overall narrative. Scenes like Dick Goodwin going to buy a car, Dick Goodwin having sex with his wife, Charles van Doren running into his father at a restaurant, and Charles Van Doren throwing his father a birthday party. I suppose they’re meant to build character, but they really, really don’t. They just come off as pointless padding, and they leave you scratching your head, and checking your watch. And just as with La la Land, you never feel invested in the story because there are no stakes. What the movie boils down to is a bitter man, Stempel, trying to prove that TV game shows are rigged. Who cares? Who cares if game shows are rigged? I just assumed everyone knew that going in. Next thing you know you’ll be telling me professional wrestling and reality television are staged. Besides, rigging a game show to make it more dramatic isn’t, technically speaking, illegal. And even if it was, the movie makes Stempel out to be such an unlikable character that you don’t want to see him prevail. You don’t want him to pull back the curtain. You don’t want the world to find out that game shows are fake. Also, I have to ask, who the hell watches game shows anymore? I understand this is a period piece, but Redford was making this film for modern audiences. He had to have known that people probably didn’t care about quiz shows anymore. Combine this–the slow pacing, pointless scenes, and very low stakes–with lackluster dialogue and some questionable acting–I’m referring, of course, to Rob Morrow’s awful Boston accent–and you’ve got a dull, pointless, and ultimately forgettable movie. I totally understand why no one went to go see this when it came out, and why history has largely forgotten it. It’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

Pawn Sacrifice

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is the Name, And views Are My Game.

Hey kids, did you know that, once upon a time, people actually cared about chess? No, I’m not shitting you! Back in the 1970s, when America was determined to beat the Soviets at everything, there was a real surge in chess’s popularity. That was because a young man named Bobby Fischer managed to beat the Russian Grand Master, Boris Spassky, and, in so doing, gave the American people something to brag about. The story of how he did this, as well as how he coped with his inner demons, is what is told in Pawn Sacrifice, the latest film from director Edward Zwick, and star Tobey Maguire.

And it’s terrible. Yeah. I wish I could be more subtle, more nuanced, but that’s the fact of the matter. It’s terrible.

Now, before any of you say anything, I want to be clear that there are aspects of this film that work. The costumes, sets, and especially the fake news broadcasts, are all beautiful, and help to bring the film’s time period to life. The news broadcasts are actually what I loved most about this movie. They give you a real sense for how big a deal this match was, as well as what technology was like back then. On top of this, Tobey Maguire is truly hypnotic as the unhinged chess champ, Bobby Fischer.

But, alas, none of this is enough to save this film from its weak script. To put it bluntly, this movie just isn’t interesting. And it’s not because it’s about people playing chess. The End Of The Tour and The Social Network are movies about writers and website designers, neither of whom are the most exciting groups in the world. And yet, these films still managed to be critical and commercial successes. Why? Because they had fleshed out characters and engaging narratives. Pawn Sacrifice has an interesting premise, but completely flat characters. Every line of dialogue they speak is either exposition, or stuff that will move the plot forward. We’re never given a scene where someone simply sits down, and talks to someone else about food, or art, or anything unrelated to politics and chess. Because of this, they never feel like real people, and we never feel any urge to care about them. Seriously! About 40 minutes into this movie, I completely tuned out. I pulled out my i-pad, and watched the music video for Rania’s “Dr Feel Good.” I was more concerned with why a K-pop girl group was wearing dominatrix outfits than I was with the movie I was watching. That’s not good. Movies, first and foremost, are supposed to entertain you. They’re supposed to suck you in. Pawn Sacrifice does neither of those things. It fails to do the very thing that it was created for. On top of this, as much as I like the news broadcasts, they also kind of take something away from the narrative. They tell us how we’re supposed to think and feel. They tell us how big a deal the Cold War is. They tell us how people in the world are responding to Bobby Fischer. We never actually see people living in fear of nuclear annihilation, or espionage. Because of this, we’re kept at a perpetual distance from the story and its characters. They’re not real to us, because we’re never allowed to see or feel what they feel, only hear it. A good film will SHOW you the climate and environment of its story. A perfect example of this is the first few minutes of the movie Hunger. Set during the Troubles in Ireland, the film’s opening scenes have absolutely no dialogue, and yet, we learn so much from them. We see a man looking under his car, and over his shoulder. We see the cuts and bruises on his knuckles when he goes to take a smoke. We gather from this that he lives in a world of constant and unpredictable danger, and that his daily routine is fraught with violence. It’s so obvious to us, and yet, we’re not told a single word. That kind of subtlety doesn’t exist in Pawn Sacrifice, and the movie really suffers as a result.

Guys, I’m not going to waste any more of your time. Pawn Sacrifice is a boring, poorly written, overly obvious piece of junk. 5 out of 10. Don’t watch it.

The Hateful Eight

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is the Name, And Views Are My Game.

Have you ever been to a murder mystery party before? In case you haven’t, it’s when you and your friends get together, and are given a scenario; “We are these people, at the so and so mansion, for this reason.” Each person is assigned a character, and then gets told that there’s a killer in their midst. You spend the rest of the game trying to figure out who said killer is, hopefully before he or she gets to you. It’s silly, but very fun, and gives people the chance to get creative and show off their improv chops. Plus, who doesn’t love hanging out with their friends?

Now, imagine that you’re at a murder mystery party, but things are a little different. You don’t know anyone there, and when you do get to know them, you realize that they’re all bigots, rapists, and murderers. There’s no fun involved with the discovery of the killer, only necessity and petty jealousy. On top of that, certain people keep repeating the same lines over and over again, and it’s really starting to grate on your nerves. If you can imagine what that party would be like, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with The Hateful Eight, the latest film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.

The story of two bounty hunters, Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russel, trying to bring a woman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, into hang, The Hateful Eight is a straightforward, contained thriller. 90% of the film takes place inside a single room, and, as with most Tarantino pictures, it synthesizes long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue with occasional outbursts of intense violence. Oh, and racial slurs. Lots and lots of racial slurs. I actually took the liberty of counting, and the n word is used 59 times in this movie. Yeah. 59 times. Look, I realize that Tarantino always uses that word in his films, and that his justification is that there was a lot of racism back in the 1800s, but, I’m sorry, there were other words in the English language back then. You don’t have to use it to such excess, Quentin. You’re not being edgy or provocative when you do so. You’re just coming off as an annoying little kid, screaming for attention.

But, I digress. Concerning the movie itself, I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t like it. And before anyone says anything, it’s not because Tarantino directed it. I actually do like some of his films. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction many times, and I think Jackie Brown is enjoyable. However, ever since Kill Bill, his works have consistently managed to either enrage, or simply baffle me. And I think I can confidently say that The Hateful Eight is his worst film yet. For starters, certain things that you just expect to be good in a Quentin Tarantino movie, like the dialogue and the acting, aren’t good here. There are numerous scenes where characters will repeat themselves, like one where Kurt Russell says “You really only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang,” and another where Walton Goggins asks Samuel Jackson three times in a row, “You have a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” There’s absolutely no reason to repeat the same lines over and over again. It just gets annoying. We heard you the first time, Quentin. Move on. And as for the acting, Tim Roth gives an atrociously over-the-top performance in this movie. Every now and then, like in the scene where he says, “the n***er in the stable has a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” his voice will get super high and cartoonish sounding. And while I’m aware that he actually is British in real life, there are points in this film where he sounds more like Nicolas Cage doing a parody of a British person.

So, the acting and the dialogue aren’t much to write home about. But what about the filmmaking? The cinematography? The music? Well, when promoting this film, Tarantino kept bringing up the fact that he was using ultra-wide, 70 mm lens cameras, like the ones they used on Lawrence of Arabia. Problem is, those lenses are more or less wasted in this picture, because, as I said before, 90% of the movie takes place inside a tiny room. Lawrence Of Arabia took place outside, in a gorgeous, rugged landscape, where the huge lenses helped capture the full scope and beauty of the environment. The Hateful Eight takes place in a cramped, dimly lit room. There’s absolutely no reason to be using these big, and expensive, lenses if all you’re going to do is stay inside one location. It honestly just comes off to me as Quentin Tarantino wanting to stroke his own ego by saying “hey! I’m just as great a filmmaker as Cecil B DeMille or David Lean! My shitty little western is on par with The Ten Commandments and Lawrence Of Arabia.” And lest you think I exaggerate with that statement, Tarantino also had the movie be over three hours long, decided to include an overture, and an intermission. That stuff hasn’t been used in movies since the 1960s. If that isn’t self-indulgent, I don’t know what is.

But by far the biggest problem I had with this movie were the characters. It’s not that they weren’t well-rounded or fleshed out. It’s just that they were all such complete and utter assholes, that I really didn’t care if they lived or died. I know that Tarantino likes to write about morally ambiguous, or even downright evil people, but, usually, he tries to give them some redeeming qualities. Samuel L Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction becomes a kinder, less violent person by the end of the movie, and Bruce Willis’s character, as selfish and proud as he is, does go back to save Ving Rhames. None of the characters in The Hateful Eight have redeeming qualities. Kurt Russell is a misogynist who repeatedly hits Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who is a racist and a murderer. Samuel L Jackson is a rapist, and a murderer. Bruce Dern is a genocidal bigot and, well, you get the idea. No one is worth caring about in this movie, and that’s sad. Why have we become so determined to not write kind, decent, or generous characters anymore? Why do we hate seeing good people in our entertainment? Hell, even Superman, the quintessential boy scout, has gotten turned into an asshole in recent years. Why, I ask you? Why?

But, yeah, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t a big fan of The Hateful Eight. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Quentin Tarantino joint, just not done very well. It’s a 5 out of 10, in my opinion. If you’re a fan of his, whatever. You’ll probably love this anyway. But if you want good quality entertainment, avoid this picture.

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.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

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

How often do you come across people who say “I want to be wrong?” Not very, I’ll bet. And yet, that was exactly what I kept saying to myself as soon as I heard that Netflix and The Weinstein Company were making a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. See, I might not have mentioned it here before but, Crouching Tiger , Hidden Dragon is my favorite film of all time. It’s not only the first movie I ever saw, but it’s also the movie that inspired me to want to make films. Seriously! As soon as I saw it, I went out and made a short movie “Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle” with my parent’s cam quarter. And, keep in mind, I was only six at the time I did this. Any movie that can inspire a six year old to want to go out and make movies, when he doesn’t even know what a camera is yet, is fucking amazing! And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge critical and commercial success at the time of its release, taking home four Academy Awards, and, to this day, remains the highest grossing foreign language film in American history. Everything about it, from its direction, to its screenplay, to its cinematography and its score, were lauded. This was the film that made an international superstar out of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who went on to star in such acclaimed movies as Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, 2046, and Memoirs Of A Geisha. This was the picture that cemented director Ang Lee’s status as one of the all-time great filmmakers, and proved to Hollywood executives that, yes, non-English movies can make money, and are, in fact, worth producing.

This sequel, however–this sickening piece of filth that dares to carry the same name as the original, beloved masterpiece–is nothing but garbage. It is the total antithesis of everything the first film was, or stood for. Just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, the original film was over three hours long, shot entirely in Mandarin, and was primarily a drama, but with fight scenes scattered throughout. The sequel, by contrast, is barely over an hour and a half long, shot entirely in English, and is just a series of fight sequences strung together by the loosest of plots. The original Crouching Tiger took its time before jumping into the action, with the first 20 minutes being devoted to character development and dialogue. The sequel barely waits 2 minutes before shoving us into one of many pointless, poorly shot, poorly edited fight scenes. The first film was done entirely in-camera, with actual people performing the stunts and choreography. The sequel has A LOT of CGI in it, and, half the time when you’re watching the movie, you can tell that those aren’t real people, backgrounds, or objects. I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea.

Now, to be fair, this sequel was doomed from the start. The original Crouching Tiger ended with all but one of the main characters dying. This, by itself, makes it very difficult for anyone to make a sequel without there being a huge shift in tone and style. Add to this the fact that the studios waited over 15 years to make the sequel, and you’ve got a project just begging to fail. Now, by itself, a delayed production and drastic shift in tone aren’t enough to doom a film. Aliens came out in 1986, a whole seven years after the release of Alien, and was an action film as opposed to a horror movie, and yet, it turned out to be great. But in that circumstance, you had a really talented group of filmmakers–James Cameron, Walter Hill–working behind the camera to make the movie the best that it could be. The sequel to Crouching Tiger, by contrast, lacks any such talented individuals on its crew. Just to give you an idea, the film’s director, Yuen Woo-Ping, isn’t even a director. He’s a fight choreographer. He gave us all the combat in The Matrix, Kill Bill, and the original Crouching Tiger, so we know that he’s good at getting people to punch, kick and strangle each other in an entertaining manner. But can he tell a good story? Can he create characters who are well-rounded, and that you want to see prevail? No, and no. Ang lee, the man behind the original Crouching Tiger, has one two Academy Awards for Best Director. He knows how to get good performances out of actors, and to build up worlds with subtlety and nuance. Yuen Woo-Ping is about as subtle as a bat to the head. Add to this the fact that the sequel was written by John Fusco–who penned such films as Thunderheart, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Spirit: Mustang Of The Cimarron–and you’ve got everything you need to know.

Guys, I’m going to make this very simple by stating that the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is absolute garbage. I award it a 0 out of 10! That’s right. I hate it more than Inglorious Bastards, the remake of Point Break, and 50 Shades Of Grey combined. DON’T WATCH IT!