As a remake of the beloved Chan-wook Park 2003 original, Spike Lee’s Oldboy has a lot to live up to.
Similar to the first film, in Lee’s version, Josh Brolin stars as Joe Doucett, a man who’s kidnapped, locked away for years and then unexpectedly let go for no apparent reason. Desperate to find out why he was stripped of such a significant portion of his life, he becomes fixated on finding his captor.
With the film inching closer to its November 27th release, writer and co-producer Mark Protosevich, and stars Michael Imperioli and Pom Klementieff hit the stage at the New York Comic Con to discuss the film, but the large majority of the conversation boiled down to a single topic – how and why do you remake such an incredible film?
Protosevich insisted, “When the movie was announced, I appreciate and certainly I know there are people out there who are skeptical about our version.” In fact, Protosevich recalled his own reaction to first hearing about the plan to remake Park’s film before he was even attached to the project. “At one point, Justin Lin was going to direct it and I remember seeing that in the trades and as a fan of the original, my reaction was, ‘Aw, really?’ And so I understand that impulse. I get it. But in my circumstance, I was presented with this opportunity … to work with a couple of people [and it wasn't] a situation I was gonna turn down.”
Those people were Will Smith and Steven Spielberg, but eventually, both decided not to follow through with it. However, at that point, Protosevich was already too immersed in the material to pull out. “I’d written a 30-page treatment and you really start to see the movie in your head. It really started to resonate with me and it meant a lot to me to see this through.” After locking in Spike Lee as the film’s new director, Protosevich recalled, “I came to New York and Spike and I had breakfast and then we sat in his office at NYU and we watched the original film together.”
Read the Old Boy Manga and watch the film all you want, it’s not going to convince the diehard fanbase that this remake is necessary just yet. Protosevich revisited one particularly distressing reaction to the project. “A friend shared with me a comment from the Internet where the reaction was, ‘Typical Hollywood bullsh*t! They’re exploiting an existing piece of art just to make money!’ And I do take issue with that because I dare you to show me somebody who would watch that original film and afterwards go, ‘We’re gonna clean up on this!’”
Park’s feature is as dark and twisted as they come, and Protosevich proudly proclaimed, “We’re just as psychologically screwed up, believe me.” He also noted, “We all came from a place of honor and respect to the original. I love the original, and I think it’s one of the great moviegoing experiences I ever had, and all of us involved were very much inclined to treat the material with as much honor and respect as we can.”
But of course, respecting the original doesn’t mean copying the original nor should it, so Protosevich pointed out a few differences. “I think one of the things that is different in our script and one of the things that I most remember from the film was the period of incarceration. We actually spend a little more time there and we shot for a week straight on this set that was just a small little room and Josh going through various makeups and transformations that correspond to different periods.”
He also noted, “There are certain things that we felt were iconic to the original and we were absolutely going to use them. There were other things that I think we perhaps felt were culturally alien to what will be a western audience.” Protosevich added, “There are also I think moments in the original film that are sort of these really unusual, unique visual moments that I think really, in a lot of ways, belong to that movie and to try to recreate them, that didn’t feel right.”
Protosevich dished out one particularly appropriate analogy that could put this whole thing into prospective. “What Spike and I often talked about was the idea of cover versions. Like, I love Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane,’ but Roxy Music does a great cover of it and I’m happy that both those things exist.” On the other hand, he also noted, “If you feel that way about it, that it shouldn’t even exist, there’s nothing I can say or we can do that is going to change that opinion probably, because that’s a very sort of fundamentalist belief. I just hope that perhaps there’s a part of people who are open to the experience.”
Based on a rather vocal reaction from the audience, Oldboy had to have taken a step closer to proving its worth through a never-before-seen clip from the film.
The piece opens with a shot of a cup on a table that pans up, revealing Brolin’s Joe Doucett. He’s sitting in a restaurant, spying on an employee packing up a bunch of large takeaway bags. Eventually, a man comes in, grabs the bags and takes them to a waiting black SUV. Joe follows him out and eventually hops on a red and yellow bicycle that pops beautifully off the rather muted background, a visual theme that comes into play in a large majority of the shots.
After secretly chasing the man all the way to his final destination, Joe sneaks inside just before the garage door closes behind his target. Hammer in hand, Joe continues to spy on the original man in addition to an assortment of others lurking inside the facility. There’s a heavy thud off camera and then, in an instant, the hammer is hurled at the original’s man face, turning it into a bloody heap on impact.
Joe scoops up the delivery bags, using them to shield his face from another henchmen monitoring a security camera. Assuming Joe is his buddy delivering the food, he lets him in and Joe drills the hammer into the top of his head and gives it a wicked skull-crunching twist before moving on.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s Chaney is fixated on a wall of security screens monitoring victims being held in solitary confinement as Joe once was. Joe gives Chaney a vicious smack to the head after which Chaney wakes up strapped to a table. Using the perspective of Joe looking down at Chaney and Chaney looking up at Joe, the scene plays out.
Chaney taunts Joe as Joe draws a line of dashes across Chaney’s neck. Chaney repeatedly growls, “What the f*ck are you doing?” When Joe doesn’t flinch and then pulls out a razorblade, Chaney warns, “You might wanna think about what you’re doing here.” Joe replies, “I’ve been thinking about it for the last 12 years,” and then dives in, cutting Chaney across each dash mark.
The two exchange a slew of expletives before Chaney gives Joe one last warning, “If you stop now, you may get out of here alive.” Joe steadfastly replies, “I’m gonna keep going till I can pull your head off with my bare hands.”
Keeping in line with the original, this sequence is downright ruthless. It doesn’t build the amount of suspense one would expect from such a violent display, but perhaps that’s because the material was shown out of context. But regardless, it is quite satisfying watching Joe get his revenge.