Is Spike Lee right for the 'Oldboy' remake?


Image Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos

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?

Comments (43 total) Add your comment
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  • Mr. Holloway

    Not that I wanted a remake of “Oldboy”, but I actually think Spike Lee is a interesting, left-field choice.

    I thought he did a pretty great job on “Inside Man”, so maybe he’ll have similar success woking on a somewhat bigger scale again.


    Please, no Spike. It is an inappropriate story for you to tell. “Oldboy” is a small perfect gem the way it is – in Korean, with a Korean cast and with a Korean sensibility. Just leave it alone.

    • Hirolla74

      I agree with you. Why butcher a Great movie created by great Korean director. The scrolling fight scene( with him holding a hammer) is amazing cinema. Please no more remakes!

    • LeeLee

      I agree too. Spike is cool and all, but why don’t they ever just hire the original director and change the cast with these remakes?

      • LeeLee

        I mean, if they HAD to do them at all. I can’t really see this movie being improved upon. It is magnificent.

    • smokes

      I totally agree. The only good thing about a remake would be if it made more people watch the original film. Hollywood sucks at remakes. The original is almost always much, much better.

    • Sue1

      I agree too. Amazing film that ain’t broke, so leave it alone.

  • katy

    I think it’s interesting. If he can bring the grit that he did to movies like “The 25th Hour” and “Inside Man,” it could be great. Besides, the bar for Korean remakes is still pretty low. Not a successful one in the bunch that I can think of.

  • tracy bluth

    Spike Lee is great, but there is absolutely NO REASON for an Oldboy remake.

  • goose

    Can everyone stop saying “remake” since this project is in no way, shape, or form a remake of the other Oldboy film? It is an adaptation of the original Japanese manga.

    • “Remake”

      Was used five times in reference to the film, and it was the Will Smith version that was considered closer to the manga, not this.

  • Regina George

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • Mike


  • JuJu Bean

    Oh good lord, Spike Lee will just find some way of turning the film into a commentary on race in America. Rob, or Dave, or Ted Zombie…whatever that guy’s name is…would make a better choice.

  • gigi

    Hopefully he’ll have a decent cast to carry the movie. Spike Lee makes pretty decent movies. I think he’ll do well.

  • Kevin

    Unlike, say, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, there is NO WAY to match, let alone improve upon, the original film. Dragon Tattoo was a decent translation with one great performance but the cinematography was TV-movie quality at best and most of the scenes lacked the suspense of the novels. Oldboy, on the other hand, is a masterpiece by one of the greatest modern filmmakers. Why remake something that can only fail in comparison to the original?

  • Stacie

    Do it! The original has a serious nut-guard so I welcome anyone who will try and challenge it. What have I got to lose?

  • Amy Lynne

    I am really not happy that they are doing an American remake of Oldboy, and Spike would not be my director of choice to helm it. Still, I guess it’s better off in his hands than in Will Smith’s.

  • Me

    How about no remake….

  • Jerry

    Lee is a talented amateur not a great talent by any stretch. He is more suited to do a Big Screen Remake of the Good Times TV Show.

    • STX81

      Wow. That’s just a wee bit racist.

      • The Truth

        Spike Lee makes things about race. How is that racist? Almost everythign that he has ever been a part of was him “electing himself the spokesperson for all black people.” in the words of Samuel L Jackson. This man is a joke and he will destroy this amazing film. This remake is a very bad thing.

  • Q

    There is only one director out there that can properly pay tribute to a Korean classic – Quinten Tarantino…but Spike Lee would be alright too.

    • Lola

      Tarantino could definately do a remake of Oldboy, especially because he did such a great job with Kill Bill.

      • Boikarabelo

        There has been a lot of remakes before so for once let Spike do this.

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