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Open Letter to Will Smith

Oldboy
Photo illustration by Martin Tsai/Critic's Notebook

Dear Will,

First of all, I am a fan. Although I loathed the mindless jingoism of "Independence Day" and the idiocy of "Wild Wild West," I think that "Men in Black" and "Bad Boys" are two of the most entertaining summer blockbusters in recent memory. I also think you are generally underrated as an actor because I remember your fine performances in "Where the Day Takes You," "Six Degrees of Separation" and even "The Pursuit of Happyness," which - let's be real - was some overwrought, Oscar-pandering shit in many ways, but your performance was good nonetheless.

I also appreciate that, as a black actor, you are the biggest box-office star in the world and have a genuinely likable persona which is high praise considering the douchiness of other famous leading men, including your creepy BFF Tom Cruise. And while I question the fact that you have enough clout to break box-office records every July 4th yet claim to be helpless in convincing producers to hire black actresses (seriously, Jada needs a job) to act opposite of you, I guess I understand what you are up against.

What's harder to forgive is your role in fucking up "I, Robot" and the ill-advised, blasphemous on-screen abortion that was "I Am Legend." Richard Matheson gave the world "I Am Legend," and it is not an overstatement to say that it is not only a great American novel but it completely transformed the horror genre and the way in which we envision both vampires and zombies. Furthermore, the genius of the book is in the title, the importance of which is revealed at the end to be a profound statement about society, science, spirituality and myth-making. Why people must take this gorgeous piece of work and repeatedly bastardize it is beyond me. "Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price was very good but too low-budget to capture the enormity of a worldwide plague. "The Omega Man" was a psuedo-blaxploitation shit show with Charlton Heston giving a ridiculous performance, but at least they had the good sense to change the title so as not to besmirch the original brilliance of the novel. Whereas your version started out strong, then added possibly the worst C.G.I. monsters that I've ever seen (why did "28 Days Later" cost millions less and boast far scarier and more realistic monsters using regular special effects makeup and good acting?) and ended in a ham-fisted Christian allegory which reversed everything the original story stood for. I know that you neither wrote nor directed this film, but your mere involvement in it earns you a (few) kick(s) in the junk should our paths ever cross.

If that wasn't egregious enough, you are planning to do a sequel to "I Am Legend," which doesn’t even make sense because didn't that monster kill you or blow you up? And I recently heard that you and Steven Spielberg are considering a remake of one of the most devastating, exciting and original films of the past 10 years, "Oldboy." Now this remake has been in the works for a while and I thought that it couldn’t get worse than Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tommorrow") directing and Bruce Willis starring. But as usual I underestimated the folly and the hubris of Hollywood. Because, frankly if someone had asked me for a list of people that should under no circumstances be involved in "Oldboy," you would have been at the top of the actor short list next to Tom Hanks, John Goodman and David Hasselhoff. And Mr. Spielberg – whom I love - would have been next to Ron Howard (schmaltzy biopic pro), Chris Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire") and Amy Heckerling ("Clueless"). Is this really the best, most fitting project for you and Mr. Spielberg to work on? Between the two of us, wouldn't David Fincher, Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino be more appropriate to helm? And wouldn't Gary Oldman, Jeffrey Wright or anybody else be a more appropriate tortured, broken and grizzled lead? I respect that you are trying to change how you are perceived as an actor, it is a noble task. At the same time I don't want to be posted outside of the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 with a sniper rifle picking off the jackasses that buy tickets to the no doubt completely changed Spielberg/Smith version of "Oldboy" - but I will. Think of the lives you can save by backing out now!

Perhaps you can finance a re-release of the original film in the United States, acknowledging the fact that even Americans can read subtitles and not be freaked out by a movie starring Asian people that isn't about kung fu, with a historical setting, or starring Zhang Ziyi. To conclude, in your quest to pillage the innovations of other countries' cinema to invigorate our own fetid and formulaic crap, please leave "Oldboy" alone. Honestly, I'm not one of these fangirls that is knee-jerk against all remakes but some things are sacred and can never be repeated ("The Women," "Psycho," "Nightmare on Elm Street" [sob!]). So go re-do something like "Tokyo Gore Police" instead.

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