Spike Lee — a director known for taking on difficult subject matter — has given himself yet another challenge: remake a cult classic beloved by film buffs for its disturbing imagery, uncompromising story and unsettling plot twists. But speaking with Lee, he sounded laid-back about tackling Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy,” in spite of the original’s legacy.
“I don’t think it’s pressure. That’s not the way Josh Brolin and I approached it,” Lee told us when we caught up with him for MTV News’ Fall Movie Preview. “Josh went to Park and asked for his blessing. Park gave it, and the one thing he said to Josh — which Josh related to me — was ’make a different film; don’t do the same thing I did.’ [So] that’s the way we did it.”
Even with Lee and Brolin setting out to make a different film, there are certain indelible images from the 2003 version of the movie that will be hard to escape: The hero, Dae-su Oh, eating a live octopus or destroying a hallway full of henchmen with a hammer in one take, for example. It’s a scene Lee reimagines, at least in some capacity, in his own “Oldboy.”
We asked Lee, specifically, about the hammer fight and how he pulled it off. Finding the right collaborator was first on the checklist, and he found that in Brolin. “We were partners; Josh was amazing,” Lee gushed.
“We’d talked about working together for many years, and it finally happened. He carried the film on his back— it’s an amazing performance. He had to go through various weight changes, but he just did his thing.”
From there, it was a matter of giving Brolin’s character, Joe Doucett, the right motivation to get from one end of the hallway to the other. “Have hammer — will travel. That’s his weapon, and he’s holding it with bad intentions. Don’t get in his way,” Lee explained. “He’s going to have to find the answer for who locked him up for 20 years. He uses his hammer to get the answers.”
Still, you can’t just send an actor as dedicated as Brolin down a hallway with a hammer. You have to be careful. “You don’t want to hit somebody and break their skull,” Lee acknowledged. “We do what filmmakers do: We had the tools, we had the knowledge, the craft. You’ve got to make it believable.”
“Oldboy” opens in theaters on November 27.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Oldboy.”