Spike Lee Talks ‘Oldboy’ Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

Published 1 year ago by

Josh Brolin in Oldboy 20131 Spike Lee Talks Oldboy Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

When they said that a Hollywood remake of the cult-classic Korean film OldBoy was in the works, fans were sent into a (very vocal) uproar. Screenwriter Mark Protosevich has had the unfortunate fate of shepherding this hated remake through years and years of development – starting with a version Will Smith and Steven Spielberg were attached to – only to watch that dream crumble and eventually get rebuilt into the current version starring Josh Brolin.

However, it was when director Spike Lee came onboard that the fans’ outrage kicked into high-gear. It’s one thing to give a beloved foreign film a Hollywood polish; it’s another thing entirely to place that beloved film in the hands of a director whose personality and flare for controversy often overshadow his considerable accomplishments as a filmmaker.

In the eye of that controversy storm stands Lee, where we met him for a roundtable interview touching on questions of his version of OldBoy, comparisons to the original, and a whole lot in between. Don’t let his unimposing stature fool you; Spike Lee is probably one of the more intimidating directors to speak to, with a suffer-no-foolishness approach to answering questions. You’ll see what we mean in the interview below:

Spike Lee Oldboy Interview 2013 Spike Lee Talks Oldboy Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

What was it about this project that appealed to you and made you want to direct it?

Spike Lee: The film, the original film and also the original source, the Japanese illustrated novel and then the third thing was a chance to work with the great Josh Brolin.

What was your recollection watching the original movie?

Spike Lee: I thought, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”

Did you actually see this film in the cinema?

Spike Lee: Yes

Did you find a challenge in juggling audiences expectations – not only with the original comic and the original film, but also your fans and your built-in audience? Did you feel a need to please all three groups?

Spike Lee: That never came up.

How did you choose to speak to American audiences differently than the original?

Spike Lee: Josh and I never thought about this as far as nationality. We never said, ‘oh this worked in Korea but it’s not gonna work in America,’ we never thought that. It never came up. It always was story, how we make this work. It never came down to nationality. We never had a thought like we have to translate an Asian film to American audiences. That did not come up with us. Now some OTHER people may have thought about that, but not us.

spike lee oldboy distributor Spike Lee Talks Oldboy Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

Is Manga helpful to you visually as a director?

Spike Lee: as storyboards?


Spike Lee: I don’t really do storyboarding but it was helpful because that was the original source of the Korean film, so you can’t go wrong going to the original source.

I talked to Michael a few weeks back–

Spike Lee: Imperioli?

Yeah. And in some ways he felt that this – because of the heightened reality – this was your, Spike Lee’s, comic book movie. Would you agree with that sentiment?

Spike Lee: I would have to think about that! Me and Michael have to have a conversation why he thought that, but I never thought of that. That might be a good analogy, maybe, but that never crossed my mind.

Would you ever want to save that [marker] for an actual comic book movie in the more traditional sense?

Spike Lee: I’m never gonna say never but it has not happened yet.

What are you most proud of when you see this film? That you know you did that’s going to surprise people – what are you most proud of?

Spike Lee: I don’t know if I can pick something out, it’s just this film in its entirety.

You mentioned before you wanted to work with Josh Brolin; now that you’ve done this what can you say about him as an actor?

Spike Lee: We’re going to work together again. We get along great, we have similar sensibilities, we both have great work ethic, total commitment to what we’re doing and we collaborate very well together.

Elizabeth Olsen in Oldboy 20131 Spike Lee Talks Oldboy Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

Can I ask you a similar question about Elizabeth Olsen? She mentioned that you would ask for input even in scenes that she wasn’t in–

Spike Lee: I don’t know about that (laughs)! That’s another [person] I gotta speak to! Whoa, whoa; I asked for input from her for scenes she wasn’t even in? Like what?

She didn’t say any specifics, but she said you would ask her for input and she was very impressed by that.

Spike Lee: I don’t remember that, but any scene she’s in I’m definitely going to ask for something. Especially when we were rehearsing.

But what was it when you saw her that you thought, “I want her in one of my movies.”?

Spike Lee: What’s the film with her Masi–what’s it called?

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Spike Lee: Yeah that one! Well that was a very tricky role, verrrrry tricky. So if we cast the wrong person in [Oldboy], it doesn’t matter how everyone else is, it might make the whole thing tumble. So I’m very happy and fortunate and gracious that we were able to get her in that role [as Marie], key role, key, key, key. She doesn’t appear till halfway through the film, but it’s a key ingredient.

Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen in Oldboy 2013 570x379 Spike Lee Talks Oldboy Remake, Changing the Original & Comic Book Movies

Was it important for you for her to come up with such a strong character that almost feels like a victim of circumstance rather than a victim of her own lack of will?

Spike Lee: Oh yes, we definitely had to make her character as strong as possible, as strong that made sense within the framework of the screenplay and I think that Lizzy conveys that.

You mentioned the rehearsal process; how important is that process for you?

Spike Lee: very important, I’m not gonna shoot a film if I don’t have rehearsal time. That’s built into the budget.

And how much rehearsal time do you usually allot?

Spike Lee: Two weeks but here’s the thing: because rehearsal time – a lot of people don’t understand this – rehearsal time is not just actors doing lines, it’s having meals, talking, watching other films, going to events together… So it’s not just going over lines, it’s a whole thing, spending time together and vibing and throwing ideas around. That’s what we do.


NEXT PAGE: Changing the Original Ending


« 1 2»

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
TAGS: Oldboy
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. the guy sounds so out of it and unprofessional judging by this interview, what people say and his track record (imdb). i’ll be reading the manga instead of watching what will no doubt either be a blatant shot for shot rip off or a pile of glorified s***.

    • Or we can wait and see the films before we make judgement on what may be his best work in a while..

      • You mean like how Spike Lee DIDN’T judge Django Unchained before it was released and DIDN’T accuse Quentin Tarantino of being racist?

  2. One of my favorites and one of the best. His filmography speaks for itself. If you don’t like it, too bad.

    • I don’t hate Spike Lee’s filmography but I do hate the guy’s attitude towards Quentin Tarantino. It’s wrong to say people shouldn’t be allowed to question your methods and then go around questioning another person’s methods especially when you and the other person are working in the same industry.

      • every director dont have to like each other.

        • I know but if you’re going to call another person’s work into question without viewing it then other people should be allowed to question you’re own work.

  3. should not have been remade….

  4. Its getting punished in the reviews I have seen so far but I am interested in checking it out myself before judgement.

  5. this movie will suck end of story..u cant remake oldboy so many memorable scenes that cant be remade..the halway fight scene,the breathtaking directing at the end…spike lee aighnt that gud and i agree with the first guy this dude sounds unprofessional wen answering like he really messed up the movie….there is noway it will be dope!!!

  6. I got too say havent seen too many of Lee’s movies but I loved the 25th hour and Inside Man.

  7. Lee has tons of bad movies: School Daze, Girl 6, Mo’ Better Blues, Crooklyn, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled, She Hate Me, Miracle at St. Anna, Red Hook Summer, and now Oldboy is sitting at 45% on RT. More than half of Lee’s filmography is terrible, at worst he is lazy and misogynistic, at best he is a completely average filmmaker.

    • Even worse…he has such an ego that he criticizes his peers, like Eastwood and Tarrantino, who are actually far better directors than him.

      …he may feel like he has to mouth off every now and then to get attention, since relatively few are seeing his films any more.

    • UUUHHH………School Daze,Mo’ Better Blues,Bamboozled were not ‘terrible movies’,they spoke greatly to the Black American experiences about racism within the black community and black shows,especially comedys,were at it worst.

  8. Really, what is it he said about Eastwood I never heard of that?

    • Lee, who has a tendency to view the world in black and white terms, criticized Eastwood for not including black actors in Flag of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. He even implied that he was a racist. Clint, appropriately, told him to “shut his face”.

      You can Google various articles on it.

    • I guess Lee forgot that Eastwood made a critically acclaimed movie about jazz musician Charlie Parker (Bird), cast Morgan Freeman in multiple pictures (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Invictus), and has employed and worked with people of all colors throughout his life, plus, he married a woman of mixed race…

  9. It seems to me that Lee thinks its only racist when somthing does or doesnt include black people and certainly picks on the wrong people, Tarantino despite having Samuel L Jackson in almost all of his movies is a racist by making Django which I can understand Lee’s anger but calling him out too be a racist is abdsurd to me.

    • Sadly, calling someone “racist” these days is, many times, just a weapon for the simple-minded who, because they cannot convince otherwise, seek to demonize those with whom they disagree.

  10. I am one of the few who LOVE’S SPIKE LEE no matter what. Yet, no one, not even Kubrick, Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Orson Wells, Hichcock, D.W. Griffith, Denis, nor Bergman could ever remake Old Boy. It’s a perfect movies that needs no help. It is universal in its themes and singular in its brilliance. When a movie like that happens there is no place to go but down. I know I am adding nothing original to the conversation and I think all involved were great choices on a ship that was doomed to sink. Classics are rare and should be honored as stand alone pieces and not studio fodder for cash. They changed a perfect ending for christssake!

  11. This doesn’t answer anything about if it stuck to the original story about incest or not. I’m thinking incest for an American audience would never sit well, so I guess not.

    Have you ever heard a cover of a song you really like? You always want to go back to the original anyway, so Hollywood just wants quick cash for remakes that are shoved aside and forgotten about.

  12. Okay, so I’m doing a study of Hollywood remakes of Asian films, Oldboy being one of my main examples. I’ve done quite a bit of research on the original and I loved the information I found, but this has really disappointed me. It just seems like Spike lee didn’t put that much thought into this movie in terms of connotations and denotations. I can see why a year on tbe movies sales couldn’t overtake the originals, as opposed to the majority of other Hollywood adaptations.