When he considered taking on an American remake of Park Chan Wook's “Oldboy," screenwriter Mark Protosevich (“I Am Legend”) knew the score. Much of our time during a recent Los Angeles roundtable was spent on his reasons for adapting the new Spike Lee-directed film, having heard the many complaints and eye rolls when the project was announced. And surprisingly, he counts himself among that crowd. “I initially heard years ago the idea of Justin Lin directing a remake, and my first reaction was, 'Oh, really?' " Protosevich said. “Which I think is the reaction of a lot of people: if you love the original, that instinctive, gut reaction part of you says, 'Aw, what's wrong with leaving the original alone?' ”
It's not an off-base assessment, but one thing Protosevich does discard completely is the outside claim that they remade Park's film for purely financial reasons. “Show me someone who watches the original film and thinks, 'Wow an English-language version of this is going to clean up at the box-office.' ” He argues instead that some acclaimed films can offer an exciting alternate take, pointing to “The Wages of Fear” (later reinterpreted in William Friedkin's “Sorcerer”) and Howard Hawks' and John Carpenter's “The Thing” as examples.
“I love both of those movies,” he said. “So another part of me thinks it's possible to proceed with a different version of an existing film, and hopefully do it with some integrity, honor and respect to the original.”
Actor Josh Brolin, the film's leading man was also present at the press day, and like Protosevich he was a massive fan of Park's “Oldboy,” but he foresaw a different path to its the twisted center of a film that explores a man's layered revenge for his wrongful 20 years of imprisonment. The new version co-stars Elizabeth Olson, Sharlto Copley, and Samuel L. Jackson, and Brolin says of it “The original is very story-driven whereas this one is more on performance. It gets more into the guy in the makeshift prison, and gets more into the psychology of how selfish this guy is. It was written differently by Protosevich, and when I called director Park [to ask what he thought of the remake], he said, 'I don't give a fuck.' "
Brolin pauses before laughing, “He didn't quite say that, but he said to just make our own 'Oldboy', and not his. I love different perspectives on the same film, and I went off on this riff about one day seeing one film done by five different directors. So that was the kind of mentality.”
In the beginning, Protosevich's involvement started out with a failed incarnation which had two of cinema's heavyweights attached. “I got approached by Will Smith because we had worked together on 'I Am Legend',” he explained, “Will wanted me to write this version that Steven Spielberg was interested in directing. That was five years ago.” He said the Spielberg/Smith version never amounted to anything more than some “initial meetings talking about it,” but the direction was still going to be very much in line with the original. “Steven's son was a big fan of the original, and he said to his dad, 'You can't cop out on this, it has to be raw, disturbing and you have to keep the ending.' And he was onboard with that. I don't know if that ever got to Will, but needless to say a lot of times it just became a moot point.”
He added, “I had done so much research and on spec wrote a thirty-page treatment of what I wanted to do with a new version, and had become very passionate and emotionally involved about the project.” Protosevich decided to stay onboard, taking the script through three extra drafts until he and the producers got to a point where he says the film was “provocative, challenging, unsettling, and not your normal movie.”