I’ll be honest: even after reading official press releases and early (albeit potentially untrustworthy) reactions, part of me still didn’t totally believe that somebody, somewhere, had actually funded a remake of Oldboy with Spike Lee positioned at the helm and Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, and Elizabeth Olsen installed in the principal roles. Yesterday, though, the first trailer – of the red band persuasion, no less- for the film hit the web, so I can kiss that delusion goodbye and just accept that my favorite all-time film is being repackaged for an American audience and will kick off its theatrical run this fall.
Of course, the above is nothing more than entitled whining, because any remake should be so lucky to have a filmmaker of Lee’s caliber and a cast containing this much raw talent (which is to say nothing of the supporting cast, which includes Michael Imperioli and Samuel L. Jackson). Whether or not Lee manages to touch Park Chan-wook’s original film in terms of sheer stunning, layered quality probably doesn’t matter so much as he turns out a film that’s worth watching on its own merits and puts Lee’s signature stamp on the material; if nothing else, Oldboy ’13 should look great and showcase excellent acting from gifted performers.
For those not in the know, Oldboy is about a man who, after a drunken night on the town that lands him in police custody, gets kidnapped and locked away in a private prison for 15 years, after which he’s sprung from captivity and forced to play a twisted game to figure out who stole the last decade and a half of his life and why. Here, the man is Josh Brolin, 5 years have been added to his sentence, and Sharlto Copley plays the mystery bad guy. (Ms. Olsen fills in the role of “helpful female sidekick/love interest”, but the character is a cipher and a plot device in the original film, so unless Lee changes things up a lot, she’s getting the short end of the stick in terms of writing.)
All of this explains, at least partially, why Lee bothered to involve himself with the story. Oldboy, at a glance, isn’t the sort of film that he’s known for making – this is especially resonant for people who have seen Park’s movie and know what it has up its sleeve – but one can understand why Lee might find a story about a man’s forced internment interesting. Lee’s movies reveal him as a champion of social justice; he’s also a fearless explorer of race politics. While there’s nothing inherently racial about Oldboy‘s plot (to say nothing of how whitewashed the cast is), there’s plenty of room for him to embellish and add overtones of both persuasions to the film and truly make it his own. Let’s hope he does that.
On that note the trailer suggests that he’s adhering a great deal to the iconography that to this day helps maintain Oldboy‘s status as a masterwork in Park’s oeuvre. The hallway fight, notably, gets worked into the mix here, though Lee clearly isn’t trying to just replicate that scene wholesale. What may truly decide the film’s success is what the trailer doesn’t show. We’ll have to wait until October 25th, 2013 to see. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer, as well as the below poster: