A New Spin on ‘Oldboy’: Big Questions With Spike Lee

Kevin Polowy
Yahoo Movies

Spike Lee on the set of Oldboy
Spike Lee on the set of Oldboy

Few things can rile up film buffs like seeing a movie they love get the remake reinterpretation treatment.

That fact wasn't lost on Spike Lee when he made the long-in-the-works English take on Park Chan-wook's 2003 cult classic "Oldboy," a dark and twisty revenge saga about a man (played in the new version by Josh Brolin) imprisoned by a stranger for 20 years, his latest joint.

Lee feels like he covered the bases, most importantly, by getting Chan-wook's blessing.

The veteran, Brooklyn-based director of "Do the Right Thing" and "The 25th Hour" talks about putting his stamp on "Oldboy" (which also stars Elizabeth Olsen and a typically foul-mouthed Samuel L. Jackson) possibly revisiting for the Shuttlesworth family for a "He Got Game" sequel ("He Still Got Game"?), and how that whole Kickstarter thing worked out.

Q: So this is your first go at a remake—
Spike Lee: Not a remake. Reinterpretation.

Q: OK, we'll put that on the record. Still, the original "Oldboy" is so treasured among its fans, what did you think was most important in maintaining in terms of its tone or style or even specific scenes?
S.L.: Thank you. [laughs] I had the evidence on my Twitter account that people were concerned that it was going to be another dumbed-down, toned-down Americanization of Asian cinema. And that's the last thing that Josh Brolin and I wanted to do. So, hopefully people come to the movie theater with an open mind and see that this doomsday forecast did not happen.

Q: Obviously you're going to get strong reactions when a film has such a passionate fan base.
And I understand it, too.

Do you take those to heart, did you gauge those early reactions?
S.L.: But I mean that was never the intent, from the beginning. Before Josh Brolin signed his name on the dotted line to be in this film, he went to Park and asked for his blessing. And Park gave it to Josh and the film. He also told Josh, don't try to do exactly what I did, just make a good film. And I think we were successful at doing that.

Q: You mentioned Twitter, which you're very active on. Do you love Twitter, hate Twitter, or love-hate Twitter?
S.L.: I think that in today's world, to reach the people I need to reach and have control of stuff I want to say, I think you gotta have it. Right now I have over half a million [followers]. I have a very loyal following so I'm happy for that.

[Related: 'Oldboy' Reviews: Is Spike Lee's Remake Bloody Good Fun]

Josh Brolin in Oldboy
Josh Brolin in Oldboy

Q: Were you surprised by any of the reactions you got on Twitter when your involvement in "Oldboy" was first announced?
S.L.: No. There's a reason why a film becomes a cult. They're fanatical about it. So it was not a surprise at all.

Q: How do you go about making it your own or putting your own stamp on it?
S.L.: For me, it was just keep doing what I've done over the past 30 years. It was not a difficult thing to do. I don't have the mindset — I'm not the type of artist that's gonna take something that's been done already and just duplicate it exactly. I don't think like that.

Is it in Samuel L. Jackson's contract that he's gotta get a couple "mutha f—kers!" in there?
S.L.: [Laughs] It wouldn't be a Samuel Jackson role if he didn't say that.

Q: The 25th anniversary of "Do the Right Thing" is coming up in June. What's your fondest memory from making that film?
S.L.: Yeah, "Do the Right Thing" and "Batman" came out the same day. The fondest memory? We never had a bad day on that set. It was all good. And right now, we are in the preliminary stages of adapting the film to Broadway stage.

Q: Drama or musical?
S.L.: It's going to have everything in it.

[Related: The Untouchables: 20 Classic Films Hollywood Can't Remake or Revisit]

Ray Allen in He Got Game
Ray Allen in He Got Game

Q: Are there any other films of yours, or specific characters, that you'd like to revisit someday?
SL: Maybe Jake and Jesus Shuttlesworth from "He Got Game." I recently had dinner with Ray Allen and we talked about it. He said, "Spike, I'm not gonna be playing much longer." [laughs] So we threw around some ideas of where it could take up from.

Q: How's it going with your Kickstarter project?
S.L.: Oh we're editing it now. The name of the film is called "The Sweet Blood of Jesus."

Q: Did you consider the Kickstarter campaign a success, would you do it again?
S.L.: Oh yeah. I don't know if I would do it again but it was a huge success, we exceeded our goal of the money we were trying to raise.

Is it true there might be an "Inside Man 2"?
S.L.: No, I don't know. It's been up [on IMDb] for five years almost. I don't know of anything. If they're making a sequel to it, no one's called me. I haven't heard anything about it.

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