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Interview: A Brief Chat w/ Spike Lee About His 'Oldboy' Reinterpretation

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act November 13, 2013 at 2:23PM

Interview: A Brief Chat w/ Spike Lee About His 'Oldboy' Reinterpretation
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Oldboy

I had the opportunity to see the film on Sunday afternoon, although I can't share my thoughts on it just yet, as there's an embargo on reviews until the 26th of this month - the day before it opens in theaters.

I will however say that comparisons to Park Chan-wook's 2003 cult classic will most certainly happen, I'm sure, once Spike Lee's version debuts. And, typically, when these kinds of inevitable juxtapositions occur (between an original and a remake/redo, or a book and its film adaptation, etc), the burden to show and prove lies with the *copy*, putting it at an almost immediate disadvantage. 

But having seen both films, I'll add that Spike's version is likely being made for the many North Americans who haven't seen Park Chan-wook's original, and for whom this new version will seem fresh and like a revelation - if only because, for them, there's no precedent for it.

And even though in the bubble within which I live, most folks I know have seen, or are, at least, familiar with Park's film, I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that most residents of these United States have probably never seen, heard of, nor know anything about Park's original.

I suppose you could also say that about most foreign films that are remade by Hollywood studios.

In the press junket that followed a day after the press screening on Sunday, I got to ask Spike a few questions about his Oldboy remake - although he prefers to say that his version is a "reinterpretation" and not a remake.

It was a very brief 12-minute round-table chat, not a one-on-one conversation, meaning I wasn't the only member of the press in the room, seated at the table with Spike. There were at least 6 of us in total. So with that many people, each with their own individual questions, and just 12 minutes with the filmmaker, we were all limited to how many questions we could ask, which explains why this interview piece is rather brief and light.

But without further ado, here's a summary of some of Spike's more interesting revelations regarding the project, made during the round-table chat:

On whether he chased the project or if it just fell into his lap.

SPIKE - I did not chase it. It was sent to me by my agent.

On whether he'd already seen the original before he signed up for the redo, and his reactions to it.

SPIKE - I'd seen the original before then. My emotions were all over the place. I thought it was so inventive. So stylish. But that was 10 years ago. At the time, I never thought to myself, 'I want to remake THAT film.' It didn't cross my mind... until my agent sent me the script, 10 years later.

On whether he'd read the source manga.

SPIKE - Yes, I'd read the Manga.

On his approach to the material, and the many similarities between his and Park Chan-wook's, given that expectations by some of us were that he would use the manga as his source material, and not Park's film.

SPIKE - First, we said that we were not doing a remake. We were doing an interpretation. Before Josh [Brolin] agreed to do the film, he met with Park Chan-wook, and wanted his blessing. And Park said, make your own film, don't remake ours. And that was my thinking from the beginning anyway. So Josh and I along with the screenwriter Mark [Protosevich], we tried to give our own interpretation of a great film, respecting the original source - the manga and the Korean film. There are several homages to Park's film, but we wanted to make our own film. If it had been radically different, we wouldn't have been respectful to the source. You have to come in humble. We didn't want to come in thinking, we're going to dismantle the original and make it better.

On whether this is his most unabashedly violent film, given how graphic it is.

SPIKE - Well there's different types of violence. Not all violence is physical, so... I don't know if I'd say that.

On shooting in New Orleans and having it be recognizable as a character in the film.

SPIKE - There's no one outside New Orleans, in my opinion, who will know that the film was shot in New Orleans. The only reason why we shot there is because it has the biggest tax rebate. We couldn't afford to shoot in New York. It wasn't even a consideration.

On whether he'd be interested in another filmmaker remaking or reinterpreting or reimagining one of his films, and whether he's ever been approached in that regard.

SPIKE - Nope and nope.

That's it! Like I said, brief and light. Such is the way these junkets go at times.

I'll share my thoughts on the film, which is definitely not your typical Spike Lee joint (although there are one or two Spike-isms within it), on the day the embargo is lifted.

Spike Lee's much-anticipated Oldboy adaptation stars Josh Brolin, along with Sharlto CopleyElizabeth OlsenSamuel L. Jackson, and more, with FilmDistrict releasing it wide, on November 272013.

Spike Lee directs from a script penned by Mark Protosevich, who is also co-producing, along with Roy LeeDoug Davison and Nathan Kahane of Good Universe.

This article is related to: Spike Lee


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