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Spike Lee talks his new “OLDBOY”

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For the first remake in his long and varied career, Spike Lee took on a movie with a particularly fervent following: Park Chan-wook’s masterful revenge thriller OLDBOY. And it was a challenge he approached thoughtfully, with what he describes as respect for his source.

OLDBOY, opening this Wednesday from FilmDistrict, stars Josh Brolin as Joe Doucette, an alcoholic ad executive who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years at the behest of person or persons unknown. Upon being freed, he sets out to learn the reasons for his captivity and exact brutal payback upon those responsible. The movie, which also stars Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli and Pom Klementieff, hits many of the beats of Park’s saga, with a few significant changes, and Lee recalls that his thought process regarding the adaptation was, “We’re not doing a remake; we’re doing a reinterpretation. Before Josh Brolin agreed to do the film, he met with Park and asked for his blessing, and Park gave his blessing and said, ‘Make your own film. Don’t remake ours.’ That was my thinking from the beginning anyway, so Josh and I, along with the screenwriter, Mark [Protosevich], tried to give our interpretation of a great film.

“If [ours] had been radically different, we would not have been respecting the original source,” he continues. “I mean, you have to come at it humble. We never came in thinking, ‘We’re going to dismantle the original and just make it better.’ There are several [visual] homages to it, though we couldn’t do every single thing they did. I mean, we show the octopus in the fish tank, and if you haven’t seen the original, you’re not going to pick that up. We were playful like that in certain places. But still, we wanted to make it our own.”

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Lee adds that he was a fan of Park’s international sensation long before the opportunity to tackle his own take on it arose. “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he recalls. “It was so inventive, so stylish. But that was 10 years ago, and I never, ever said, ‘I want to remake that! I want to do that film!’ That was never a thought until [the producers] said, ‘Do you want to read this script?’ ”

The director also looked to the original OLDBOY manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, though the opening credits of his film note only “the Korean motion picture” as a source. Lee suggests that credit was the producers’ doing: “They added that shit!” he exclaims. “Shenanigans.” Similarly, it’s noteworthy that this is the first of his movies to be billed as “A Spike Lee Film” rather than his traditional “Spike Lee Joint,” though when queried about the change, his only reply is, “Tough business!”

Also difficult was submerging the visual character of New Orleans, where OLDBOY was shot, to turn it into an unidentifiable Everycity. Most of Lee’s features have been set and shot in New York City, though in this case, “We couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t a consideration. The only reason we shot in New Orleans was because it has the biggest tax rebate. New Orleans having such a distinctive look was the number-one problem. It couldn’t look like New Orleans; it couldn’t look like anywhere. Chinatown [a key setting in OLDBOY] doesn’t exist; that was a big problem. But in my opinion, there’s no one outside of New Orleans who could look at that film and say it was shot there until they read the end credits.”

As OLDBOY heads to theaters nationwide, Lee is already deep into postproduction on his next feature, the Kickstarter-financed DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS. “It’s about people who are addicted to blood, but they’re not vampires,” he says. “And it’s a Joint—unlike any other Joint you’ve seen before!”

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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