Spike Lee is having a moment. Mandate Pictures confirmed rumors today that the director would helm the remake of the 2003 Korean cult classic, Oldboy. The announcement came only hours after Lee tweeted that he was heading to the set of the next yet-to-be-announced Spike Lee joint. This would be a big day for any director, nevertheless one who hasn’t had a film in theaters since Miracle at St. Anna flopped three years ago.
The remake has gone through a host of directors over the course of its development. For a long time, Will Smith showed interest, insisting the new version would adhere closer to the tamer original source material and not the ultra-violent Chan-wook Park film. There is no word how about close the Mark Protosevich script will stick to either the manga or the film.
But now that Lee is set to helm the long in-development Oldboy remake, it’s time to start wondering how up to the task the auteur is. One of the main advantages Lee has in adapting Oldboy is his versatility. The director got his start directing socially conscious, character-driven indie films like Do the Right Thing, only to have his biggest hit in 2006 with Inside Man, a heist movie. This kind of directorial range — stretching from small films to big genre hits — added to his ever-present status as a controversial filmmaker makes him a more than suitable candidate for the remake.
Anyone familiar with the original film or the manga it was based on can imagine the difficulty in importing the dark thriller to the U.S. Last time I checked, Kevin James doesn’t eat a live octopus in The Zookeeper. Anytime a cult classic faces the remake treatment, especially when it’s imported, there is bound to be a strong reaction from the fanbase and lots of questions. Let Me In, director Matt Reeves’ remake of Let the Right One In, captured the feel of the original but failed to find box office success. In the case of Oldboy, what drew viewers to it are exactly the kind of things that will be seen as too graphic for American audiences. When one thinks of Oldboy, the mind goes straight to the octopus scene, the single-take hammer fight and the disturbing final twist. Losing these elements is what Oldboy fans fear the most from a remake. Lee faces the unenviable task of maintaing the shock value of the original, while attempting to not alienate a mainstream American audience.
Do you think Lee is up for the task? Who would you like to have seen remake Oldboy?