7 Surprising Ways the Original Oldboy Manga Differs From the Korean Film

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 6:00 am


Here we are on the cusp of Spike Lee's all-new version of Oldboy, which promises to be an intriguing new spin on Park Chan-wook's internationally renowned revenge thriller [watch for the review coming later today - ed]. Instead of Choi Min-sik grasping a hammer and looking dangerous, we've got Josh Brolin to look forward to, while Sharlto Copley steps into shadowy antagonist Yoo Ji-tae's shoes. But the trajectory of this new film version has some interesting curves to it; before Lee and Brolin got the project off the ground, the principals were director Steven Spielberg and actor Will Smith. This earlier take, Smith said, would be an adaptation of the original manga, and not the Park film.

But really, you're wondering, how different could they be? In broad strokes, film adaptations of comic books are often pretty faithful to the source material. They kind of have to be, or it places the appeal of the original, a major hook for getting people into the film, at risk. But what Park Chan-wook accomplished with his 2004 Oldboy, when compared to Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi's manga, is a startling piece of work: a film that faithfully reproduces the style and circumstances of the original, but with a more bluntly menacing tone and some very different story elements. Let's have a look at nine ways Park's Oldboy is a very different animal from the original manga, and how that might reflect on Lee's film. Obviously, this thing is going to be full of tantalizing spoilers; if you want to experience these twists without your mind expectantly searching for them, go to Dark Horse Comics and grab the manga from them.

9) The protagonist is jailed for fifteen years instead of ten


In Tsuchiya and Minegishi's Oldboy, we meet Shinichi Goto, a 35-year-old man who's abruptly released from a shadowy private jail after a decade of unexplained imprisonment in a tiny room, with only a TV to keep him company. His counterpart Oh Dae-su comes out worse for wear - he seems a bit older when he's pulled off the streets and jailed, and is locked up with the tiny TV for fifteen years to boot. Each man is in excellent physical condition on release, but Oh is noticeably older and more worn. While Goto is able to re-orient himself and grabs some temp work at a construction site to get some stability back, Oh wanders the streets, in isolation for so long he's barely able to talk to people. It isn't until a homeless person hands him a phone and a wad of cash that he's able to seriously start hunting for the reasons why he was locked up. By the time Goto encounters a similarly-equipped hobo, he's already pulled himself together.

8) The hero's wife is murdered instead of his fiancée being left at altar


The circumstances of Goto and Oh's life before the kidnapping and imprisonment are also pretty different. Goto leaves behind a seemingly successful life and a pretty fiancée at the altar. Oh is married and celebrating his daughter's birthday the night he's kidnapped, but he discovers, soon after his imprisonment, that his wife has been killed and he's suspect #1. This changes the circumstances of their release - Goto is able to return to something vaguely approaching normalcy, as his fiancée has long since given up on him and married someone else. Oh, on the other hand, has two big problems: he's curious about what happened to his daughter, but he has to keep a low profile or he might be pulled by the cops for some uncomfortable interrogation room chit-chat about a long-unsolved murder.

7) The protagonists' motivations don't match up


Oh is released to life as a fugitive, with no connection to his long-lost daughter; he's furious about what his captors did to him, and bent on finding not just answers but revenge. Goto also bursts out of jail spoiling for a fight, but the sudden intrusion of the real world sobers him up quickly. He accepts his circumstances, and starts casting about for a way to get back into society. He still seeks answers, not out of a need for revenge, but thanks to burning curiosity - curiosity that's fed by his tormentor, who slowly reveals himself to Goto over the course of the manga.

6) The Korean film is way, way more violent and lurid


Here, let me lay this on you: in the original Oldboy, nobody dies. At least, not until right at the end, there. Contrast with the death of Oh's buddy at the Internet café. The fights are less brutal, and the antagonist's reasons for tormenting our lone hero are almost entirely psychological, and not based on a twisted little story of incest. Despite, that, the two works still have a strangely similar feel; Park's shots of narrow streets, dive bars, and smoky neon lights are incredibly evocative of Shinjuku Golden Town, the real-life neighborhood where the Oldboy manga takes place.

5) The hero falls in love with a young girl - but it's not the same young girl.


...and that also contributes to the manga seeming much less oppressively brutal than Park's film. In the film, we watch as Oh takes up with the young sushi chef Mido, and ends up starting a romantic relationship with her - which is made all the more shocking when Oh's nemesis, Mr. Lee, reveals that she's really his long-lost daughter, cementing his vendetta against Oh. In the manga, Goto is similarly taken in by a pretty young bar hostess named Eri, but there's no prior relationship. We gradually discover that Eri is another pawn set up by Goto's nemesis, a man who calls himself Dojima.

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