Attention Readers: This review will heavily compare and contrast (mostly contrast) against Park Chan-Wook's OLDBOY, of which this film is a remake. If you have not seen OLDBOY, then for the love of all that is brutal, go see it first and then come back here. There will be spoilers ahead for sure. Still here? Great! Now lets get going....
Bala is an Indian software designer that has recently been been transferred to Bangkok to continue developing his latest program. His wife has also come with him. Soon after they move into their new house, Bala is abducted for no apparent reason. He finds himself imprisoned in a strange room, where he has no contact with the outside world and is fed a strict diet of fried dumplings. After fourteen years of imprisonment, he is just as mysteriously released. On his person is a huge wad of cash and a cell phone. Bala begins to receive anonymous phone calls from the person who had him imprisoned, and challenges him to figure out why he was put there. With the help of a cab driver, Jenny, who is also Indian, they head out into Bangkok. Bala only has one thing on his mind, revenge, and he intends to pay it out in spades.
From the moment you meet Jenny, who is the equivalent to OLDBOY'S Mi-Do, you know things are going to get bad. Jenny is obviously too old to be Bala's daughter, so right away you can deduce that the entire incest revenge plot is going to be rewritten. But you should have known that from the beginning. In India, people destroyed movie theatres for showing the film FIRE, which involves a lesbian love story. What do you think they would have done had the director, Sanjay Gupta, stayed completely faithful to the source material?
Sanjay Dutt takes on the impressive task of filling Choi Min-Sik's shoes in the role of Bala, the equivalent to OLDBOY's Dae-Su. Sanjay Dutt is an impressive actor within his own right, and has been acting in India for over twenty-five years. However, his acting and attempt at being menacing, pitiful, sympathetic and ruthless all at the same time can not compare. It is like watching a high school play or road show of a Broadway musical. It is just not going to compete. Try as the stunt team and choreographer might, Dutt just can not pull off the brutal physical action and strength that is required for this role.
Up next is John Abraham, who takes the reigns as the villain Rohit, who is the mastermind behind Bala's imprisonment. Similar comparisons can be made to Dutt's acting. Here, Abraham completely overacts, yells and loses his "cool" far too often. He does not have the sophistication, patience and tolerance that the role should evoke. Instead, one wonders by the character's actions how he was able to pull off waiting fourteen years. He is much too eager to get into the "let-me-explain-everything" portion of his plan.
When people watch OLDBOY, they generally come away with two burned in memories. One is the five-minute one-shot hallway fight, and the second is the shocking ending revelations. Here, an attempt is made to mirror that fight sequence. The results are almost cringe-inducing. Gone is the side view that tracks down the hallway. Instead, the camera watches over Bala's shoulder, and tries to stay out of his way as he goes through the motions. The hardest part to watch are goons he is fighting. Each of them are obviously waiting for their particular mark and time to lunge forward, get hit and fall back down. Oh, and don't forget the CGI knife that is plunged into and stays in Bala's back for half the fight. The end will be left for you to discover, just in case you feel the desire to still watch this and laugh and roll your eyes for two hours. Needless to say it is all wrapped up in an easy-to-swallow happy ending that is ready for India to consume.
Had this been an original film from India and released exactly as it is, there is no doubt it would have garnered some very positive reviews and won over fans rabid for revenge storylines. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead it is a remake that can only fall into the why-was-this-made to begin with category. It will be fun to see what Hollywood does with the source material. Perhaps if they see ZINDA first, they'll realize what they are doing and leave well enough alone.