Akira vs Oldboy Remakes - Which Is The Lesser Of Two Evils?

We ponder why the incest-riddled Korean masterpiece along with the extremely violent idolised anime are trundling along the remake path at a suddenly very frightening speed and which one might turn out the best.

There is no such thing as €˜sacred€™ anymore. To suggest that any film is inviolable in the modern era is unfortunately not the case, remakes are omnipresent. I completely understand why studios endure the €˜lack of creativity€™ insults thrown at them and Hollywood as a whole. Money. A big budget film failing can deal a killer blow to any studio; turning to a ready made fanbase enables them to pretty much ensure a success. Even the fans who are so disgusted at the idea of a remake buy a ticket just to confirm they were right. I know this because I bought a ticket to Let Me In. It is the exact same reason that every half decent young-adult novel with good sales is being adapted. OldBoy and Akira respectively are held in extremely high regard, both with very niche fan bases and a penchant for extreme violence, at first glance they€™re hardly Hollywood friendly. And so I€™m sat here pondering why the incest-riddled Korean masterpiece along with the extremely violent idolised anime are trundling along the remake path at a suddenly very frightening speed. With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to see which one appears to be the lesser of two evils. I know, I know, they should both be banished to Hollywood€™s version of remake hell along with the mooted Escape from New York, Carpenter has suffered enough. A daunting prospect I know, but here goes.

The Conception

Oldboy When the Oldboy remake was first announced it probably could not have received a more sterile retort. Many proclaimed Hollywood evil once more, a vicious entity that was only out for mere capital gain. Fans did not want to accept it, and as one myself I was bewildered at the choice. I mean Hollywood Incest, really? But then an announcement, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct and helm the ship. Interesting, not necessarily in a good way, but interesting all the same. Then aboard came Will Smith. I had no idea what to make of it. I pictured the hammer scene except, the hammer was inflatable and the guards he was fighting had morphed into Indiana Jones style CGI gophers, completed by the whack-a-mole sound. Neither the director nor the actor seemed to fit the roles, and together they felt awkward, circular pegs trying to fit into a square hole. It even got to the point where Smith was openly discussing the films conception with the usual fake nonsense €˜this isn€™t a remake of the film; we€™re adapting the comics the film was adapted from€™. Eventually word came through that the project was €˜dead€™, but in an industry where zombies can exist, nothing is ever dead. So on came the I Am Legend writer Mark Protosevich (God help us), and the project was alive once more. Word then came from Smith that the remake will focus upon adapting the comic book series rather than looking at the film. I call this the €˜Ridley€™, a way of avoiding condemnation from the original€™s fans while still maintaining some form of association as to make sure they buy a ticket. Still look how that turned out for the 70 year old Scott, Prometheus is one of the most highly anticipated films of next year, just don€™t call it a prequel. Still Smith€™s words were somewhat fruitless as he and Spielberg soon dropped out to be replaced by€ I€™ll get to that later. Akira In 2002 news broke that Warner Bros. had just acquired the rights to one of the most popular Anime creations of all time, fans gritted their teeth, and it was Akira. The beloved 1988 Cyberpunk adaptation had been taken from its Asian roots and placed into the hands of Hollywood. No longer would we look on Neo-Tokyo and the manipulation of the body as an allegory for Hiroshima, instead the action was moved to Neo-Manhattan with no doubt allegorical links to 9/11 evaporating from the screen. The film would no longer be anime, I know, I know, how in the hell are they going to recreate THAT ending. CGI I assume, 3D CGI if I can assume further. The shining light for many years after the depressing announcement was the involvement of Leonardo DiCaprio. Nobody could determine whether or not he was just a producer overseeing the remake or the star of the film, nobody cared, it was Leo and thus a sense of credibility rose from the ashes. That was until the rumour mill started churning out perspective Directors€.

The Director

Oldboy Spike Lee. Did anybody really see that coming? I for one was surprised and weirdly it sparked up my interest once more. Lee doesn€™t strike me as the studios first choice but rather an experimental choice. Fans of the original, like me, did not respond in anger but in confusion. Suddenly we had been thrown a curveball. They had handed the keys to a man not known for his subtlety, instead they handed them to a man who is adept at conveying strong politicised messages. Oldboy had gone from being a Hollywood commodity to a film which may have some artistic credence. I can only picture John Turturro as the prison officer, and the double dolly technique being used for the hammer scene. And seeing as Lee has certain brashness to his style, the hope that Hollywood would not tame the obscene ending seems more likely. In a recent interview on Collider with producer Roy Lee he even went as far to heighten the expectations of the films ending;
"The ending will be something that the audiences will all be € especially the fans of the original, will be very happy with. In fact, some may consider it to be a bit darker."
Spike Lee hasn€™t really set the world alight in recent times his last film of any note was Inside Man, other than that he has dipped his leg, rather than toe, into documentaries and had a rather high profile feud with one Clint Eastwood. With the new €˜Spike Lee Joint€™ Red Hook Summer currently in production, and the promise of a return for his own Do The Right Thing character Mookie, perhaps a return to his roots will produce a solid lead up to Oldboy. We can only hope. Akira With Oldboy we can look on with intrigue until anything solid comes out of the eventual production, with Akira, I shudder with fear. The list of directors first up was Ruairi Robinso, who you ask? He is an Oscar nominee (Live-animated short, ironic) but according to IMDB he hasn€™t even completed a feature film; the perfect choice to remake a treasured classic (I do hope my sarcasm comes across). Once he dropped out the project was temporarily dead. However in 2010 two names lingered around the project, the Hughes Brothers or to be precise Albert and Allen Hughes. Except this time Albert Hughes would be going solo. To date they have both made one film worthy of praise, the tenacious Menace II Society, with their most recent feature film outing being last year€™s dreadful Book of Eli. Honestly Gary Oldman what were you thinking. So unless Albert Hughes was the sole reason behind Menace fans of Akira had no reason to feel optimism. And so when earlier this year Hughes dropped out from the project citing creative differences, nobody really cared. And so the studio turned to the man responsible for Goal 2: Living the Dream. Yes you read that right, the director for the live-action remake set in a post apocalyptic Manhattan is the man responsible for allowing Steve McManaman€™s flowing curly locks to be immortalised on a big screen. His debut film a remake of The House of Wax brought with it a major role for Paris Hilton. Luckily the film showed her getting impaled through her mouth; I€™ll stop myself short of any crass jokes. Since then he directed the so-so Orphan, the performance he got out of his child actress was the best thing to come out of it. A team up with Liam Neeson for Unknown released this year was a very tame effort which doesn€™t lead me to believe that he is the right man to veer the angry mob into optimism.

The Casting

Oldboy Now this is where I start to become hopeful in the remake. The big confirmation to this point is Josh Brolin as the lead. In recent times he has seen resurgence in his career which has enabled him to choose truly great roles like Milk along with the unfortunate ones, Jonah Hex comes to mind. However he will always be remembered for his collaboration with the Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy€™s novel No Country for Old Men. Javier Bardem may have taken most of the plaudits but Brolin€™s character displays unrivalled charisma, going toe to toe for much of the film with Bardem€™s cold bowl-haired killer. It is a beautiful game of cat and mouse, one which many seem to forget Brolin had a 50% stake in. He has continually played morally corrupt characters, whether it is his Wall Street incarnation, the killer of Harvey Milk or even US president George Bush. Even in No Country for Old Men he steals $2million dollars from a drug deal gone wrong and spends the rest of the film doing everything in his power to keep it. In the original Oldboy Dae-su Oh is a morally ambiguous character who is imprisoned for his own immoral choice. With this in mind perhaps Brolin is a good fit, his age and looks (with and without beard) seem to fit the role. I€™m not saying it is the perfect casting decision but it isn€™t far off. What makes this remake even more promising is the potential casting of the main antagonist. At first it was believed that Christian Bale would be offered the role, instead an offer is out to our very own English darling, Colin Firth. In the original Ji-Tae Yu, is depicted as a cold, detached and wealthy man. And although his performance is good, it is always one I felt could be built upon, after all this man has bore a grudge for over 20 years. Firth seems to be a very good fit; he can be suave when needed, meticulous when deemed appropriate and is capable of displaying an anger which shakes free of his calm demeanour. Hopefully he accepts the role, because Firths defined style against Brolin€™s grittiness would be a joy to behold in any film. It is a duel which any fan of the original would encourage I€™m sure. As for the role of Mi-Do all we know so far is that Rooney Mara had been offered the role and passed on it. A shame really coming off the back of what looks like a very impressive performance in another remake with Fincher€™s The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. All I ask is that they back away from Kristen Stewart, talking of which€€


For a long, long time Akira had nothing but rumours floating around it regarding its cast. Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zac Afron, Morgan Freeman, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michael Fassbender, Robert Pattinson and Andrew Garfield were just a few of the names that came through the whispers of Hollywood. None of them have signed on, which is a shame because Zefron as Tetsuo would have been hilarious. To say they cast the net far and wide would be an understatement, unfortunately their net seemed to bring back with it Kristen €˜Leave my beloved things alone€™ Stewart. First things first, nobody, unless you€™re a Twi-hard, Fanpires or Twioholics, wants Kristen Stewart in their movie. Let alone an anime which is as loved as it is influential on the art form. According to reports she will be playing the role of Kei who in the original film is the leader of the underground terrorist group who is also a medium. By casting her in a role so important to the films dynamic, the studio had already signalled its intentions. Still it is rumoured that Keira Knightley was first offered the role and passed. I€™m not sure how I would have felt about it, perhaps a bit indifferent, but given that Stewart is the alternative I would welcome Keira with open arms. Joining Kristen in the male lead role of Kaneda is Garret Hedlund, a pretty boy actor who is best known for his starring role in Tron: Legacy and not much else. Unfortunately he and Kristen have just completed the film adaptation of Kerouac€™s On the Road, another idea which makes me feel cold inside. Perhaps their chemistry was so electric that the idea of them leading another highly anticipated adaptation was a must. More than likely they are seen as two young attractive actors who can bring in a crowd who are young and willing to spend £8 on a cinema ticket. Which leads to the question, does the studio realise how dark Akira truly is? Because it seems like they are approaching Akira like some sort of young adult Disney flick. The question remains can either of these actors reach the depth of darkness the roles require, the answer in earnest is no they cannot. With Gary Oldman reportedly dropping out of the project, a good move it seems, the role of the colonel has been offered to Ken Watanabe. If the damage caused by the casting of the leads could be stemmed, Watanabe could have been that guy; unfortunately I don€™t know it can be. Unfortunately for him as well, he will have to bat away the race question; did he get the role to boost the Asian presence in the film? He didn€™t, but it will always be present. The cast also makes space for the eccentric thespian Helena Bonham Carter, another relatively good piece of casting but one which cannot help raise expectations. Although these are considered to be set in stone casting there has still been no big confirmation from the studio. Perhaps they are questioning their decisions, hopefully this is the case because they have yet to decide on the most important casting, that of Tetsuo. Recently screen tests were held by Warners in attempt to find an actor who could portray the destructive Tetsuo. Among the actors that tested were the brilliant Michael Pitt, Paul Dano and Toby Kebbell. I personally would love to see Kebbell get the part, he is an actor who would quite naturally display both sides to Tetsuo and I believe the sinister chaos which he descends into could be portrayed astutely. Given the disappointing casting so far, this film truly hinges on is the casting of Tetsuo. Go down the Stewart and Hedlund route and we could be looking at a remake worthy of standing next to Nicolas Cage€™s The Wicker Man. Look towards the Watanabe€™s and Carters of this world and maybe, just maybe, we can have something to look forward to.


Before these projects were announced I would never have imagined their conception let alone wished for them to occur. Unfortunately they are here to stay; as I said at the beginning nothing in Hollywood is sacred. So we€™ll there be any reason to see them other than to see what they€™ve done to two of my favourite films? The idea of Spike Lee directing Old Boy intrigues me, it seems that what started out as a very bad idea with Spielberg and Smith is actually starting to garner some interest. Nobody is saying it is going to be any good, but fewer are trying to completely write it off. If Lee can channel his best work into the film while avoiding any deeper political messages perhaps the film could be a success to both the mainstream audience yet to see Oldboy and its fan base who were at one point baying for blood, me included. With a solid cast and a director in place it is definitely in a better position than Akira. The problem here is that Hollywood seems to be trying to make the film available to the mainstream audience, by that I mean a 12/PG-13 rating. Casting Kristen Stewart does not make sense if the studio isn€™t thinking about the audience she attracts. The same goes for young Hedlund. You would honestly think that the producers hadn€™t watched the original. Firstly if they had they would realise that a live-action Akira is pretty much impossible unless the budget hits the $200 million (This version reportedly has a $90m budget). Secondly if they had watched it they would realise that to give that amount of money to such a gloomy film would be suicide, which must be why the budget has been lowered. To counter this they have casted actors which can hopefully guarantee an audience. I€™m genuinely worried about it; Akira doesn€™t have a happy ending, its gore laden and how are they going to display Tetsuo€™s Teddy bear nightmare, I imagine by bypassing the whole thing. It just simply does not work and giving the directing job to a man who has directed Kuno Becker and Paris Hilton is asking for criticism. They don€™t care about the original they just care about its name. The one shining light for them? The man who originally penned Akira in the first place, Katsuhiro Otomo, is onboard as an executive producer. Whether his name is merely a name based upon a nice payment or that he will meticulously watch the remake of his creation is yet to be seen. I can€™t imagine he would let Hollywood destroy the many hours he spent creating one of the most influential anime of all time. Then again maybe like Hollywood money is the motivator. Upon release I know that I will enter the cinema in curiosity for one film and enter the cinema with some of the worst pre-conceptions for a film ever. I€™m playing a waiting game and have no idea who will come out a winner, me or Hollywood.
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Dan Lewis is a writer, reader and lover of all things cultural, whether that be Film, Television, Music or Photography. His idol is Louie CK. His favorite Animated TV show is Archer. And if he was a Wire character he'd be Nicky Sobotka.