Will Spike Lee Direct an ‘Oldboy’ Remake?

I can’t decide if this is the best news we could possibly have with respect to a new version of Oldboy, or merely the most unexpected. It is certainly an intriguing idea, however. Spike Lee has just been talking about how he can’t get a movie financed — after Miracle at St. Anna no one even wants to make a sequel to Inside Man, which did quite well. But now there is this report, which says that Spike Lee is in talks to direct the long-rumored remake of Oldboy.

Twitch has the scoop, and while it’s the sort of report at which I might generally tend to look askance, the site has been correct recently with a couple big scoops, and Todd Brown is quite connected to the world of Asian cinema. So we’ll treat this as credible stuff for now, given the source. (Which, even if correct, doesn’t mean the movie will actually get made.)

The site says the Mark Protosevich (Thor) script is still in play — this particular draft was reportedly going to be the new spine of the project when we last heard about it in November of 2010. At that point the rumored Steven Spielberg and Will Smith version, powered by an earlier script by the writer, had died. But Mark Protosevich was turning in a new draft, and a director shortlist cropped up that included Steven Spielberg, Matthew Vaughn and Danny Boyle.

Obviously that trio passed, so could it now fall to Spike Lee? And is this draft still hewing close to the original manga, more than to the Park Chan-wook film that gained a worldwide fan base?

(To recap for the few people who don’t at least know the background of this story: Oldboy tells of a father who, while out drinking with a friend, is kidnapped and finds himself in a strange hotel prison, where he is held for fifteen years. Abruptly released, he is soon contacted by a mysterious figure who teases him with information about the reasons for his long confinement. That leads to a complex web of past sins, vengeance and violence. The existing film is quite explicit in some respects, and one complaint about the idea of a US remake is connected to the belief that the impact will be lessened, and the film neutered, by studio sensibilities. Not having read drafts for the proposed remake, we don’t know what changes might be made.)

As things go with Spike Lee, this would be a very unexpected move, but an interesting gambit from a business standpoint. He just told Charlie Rose (via THR),

“Inside Man was my most successful film,” he said, adding that he had Washington and Foster on board for the sequel. “But we can’t get the sequel made. And one thing Hollywood does well is sequels. The film’s not getting made. We tried many times. It’s not going to happen.”

So these days, doing a long-in-development remake is the best way for someone like Spike Lee — an outspoken but proven guy whose instincts aren’t always mainstream — to get a movie made? How utterly depressing. And yet stories of simmering grudges and vengeance are hardly alien to Spike Lee’s oeuvre, so this might not be quite the serious left turn that it seems to be at first glance. The fact that he hasn’t made a movie like this could also be a good thing; the project could be a fresh source of energy. Assuming this report is on the money, Oldboy could be a bridge to new filmmaking territory for one of the most notable American filmmakers.

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