When Harry programmed “Oldboy” at Butt-Numb-A-Thon, many of us in the room were excited because we already knew the work of Chan Wook Park, and it turned out to be an amazing step up for the filmmaker, a brutal and heartbroken story of revenge and punishment. It was exciting watching the rest of the world embrace the film as well when it made its “official premiere” five months later at Cannes, and every good thing that’s happened to Park as a filmmaker since then, he deserves. But if you’d asked me in that room at the end of the first screening if “Oldboy” would end up being this thing that people in Hollywood were doggedly determined to remake, I would have guessed wrong. It just seemed too dark, too built on pain. There were moments that seemed Hollywood-friendly in terms of stylistic confidence, but the story just didn’t seem like their cup of tea.
For the last few years, there have been repeated noises about who would be remaking the film and how, and the most high-profile team who worked to figure it out were Steven Spielberg as director with Will Smith talking about playing the lead. That seemed impossible to me. Will Smith is so aware of his image, so careful to protect it, that I just couldn’t imagine him embracing the inherent darkness of the story, and Spielberg’s sensibilities, even when revenge-minded as with “Munich,” aren’t a fit for this at all. More than that, though, there were legal rights issues that seemed to be the real stumbling block, and when the project collapsed, I thought that was the end of the matter.
Nope. Not even close.
Mandate Pictures today officially announced something that Twitch Film first reported last week, and it’s certainly an interesting development. Spike Lee is now set to direct the film, with Mark Protosevich credited for the screenplay. Protosevich is also producing the film along with Roy Lee and Doug Davison of Vertigo Entertainment. Sounds like Vertigo, a company that has always been very aggressive about tracking down and purchasing remake rights to Asian films, finally got the matter sorted, and now they’re partnered with 40 Acres And A Mule to get this done.
This is an important film for Spike Lee. He’s always had to fight to get things made, and he’s seemed particularly frustrated lately. The sequel to “Inside Man,” as sure a thing as he’s ever had in his career, had a script and Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster were willing to make the film, but he couldn’t raise the money for it. That’s tough, and it shows you how tricky the world of movie financing has gotten these days. After all, “Inside Man” is one of Lee’s hits, and Washington and Foster are solid commercial names. That should have been easier for Lee. Instead, he’s been sitting out the feature world since “Miracle At St. Anna’s” bombed loudly a few years ago. If he gets “Oldboy” made, it will be his first time in the chair in a while.
Now that this has been announced, I’ll say it… I’m excited. Lee could be a really nice fit with the material, and I’m betting there’s a real fire burning in him right now. Whatever this is, it won’t just be a safe, simple remake.
We’ll have more for you on “Oldboy” as Lee begins casting the film and as it makes its way, hopefully, toward production.