Spike Lee was recently announced as the director to helm the American adaptation of Korean cult-classic Oldboy which was in itself an adaptation of the manga comic of the same title. This remake has been talked about for years with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith attached for some time, well now with Spielberg and Smith out (thank God) and Spike Lee in, news has recently come in that Josh Brolin is set as the lead character. The story of Olboy for those who don't know sees a man (in this case Brolin) being kidnapped and imprisoned for 14 years, once released he has 5 days to find his captors and the reason why he was wronged.
The Korean film by director Chan-Wook-Park and starring Min-Sik-Choi was a major hit leaving audiences both exhilarated and disturbed, Spike and Brolin have a lot to live up to but with reports indicating that Christian Bale is interested in the role of villain things could really start getting interesting.
Spike Lee is a great choice for director but an odd gig for the man himself, Spike is a director of integrity and not the sort of studio hire director he appears to be here. Even his slightly more accessible films such as Clockers, 25th Hour, and Inside Man are hardly the kind of commercial fodder that multiplex audiences lap up, the rest of his oeuvre covers more autobiographical ground and features many dramas centring on social/racial tensions. However, after the critical and financial disaster that was Miracle at St. Anna (2008) his war film that grossed just $5million out of its $45million budget probably means that Spike has lost the last bit of clout he had when it came to studios financing the films he wants to make. Anyway, Spike certainly knows where to put the camera and with a quality cast getting off to a good start we could be in for a great piece of work here.
Given Oldboy's cult-status, fans are surely up in arms already cursing and blinding that this much talked about remake has finally got the go ahead. I personally detest the idea of remakes as much as the next film fan, my problem however is people who only hate remakes of films that they adore and perhaps ignore the fact that they have probably viewed and enjoyed remakes without knowing it (John Carpenter's The Thing perhaps). My disdain for remakes comes from frustration at the current state of commercial cinema; as much as I can get what I want from my local art house I don't want to be driven there in hiding permanently because of the dire state of the multiplexes. Of course we have the odd gem such as Inception or Source Code but in these financial times studios and producers are not comfortable putting their trust in original ideas and thus only invest in projects that have an existing audience (from a book, comic, video game, TV show, or existing film) and as we know ticket attendance is up and audiences are lapping up all this by the numbers cookie cutter drivel and making studios huge profit. The standards have fallen and it's a vicious circle, it is up to the studios to put out quality original money worthy products, but, it is also up to the audiences to demand quality if standards are not met. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" as they say and after studios are given record breaking profit from films such as the Transformers franchise and any sexist 'romantic' comedy that undoes decades of feminist work then why should the studios change? The studios are in charge of making films that sell aren't they? If they can make a half assed piece of junk that sells 50 times more than a project they invested time and passion into then why the hell not?
At the moment there is a trend to quickly remake successful foreign films as quickly as possible, last year we saw Let Me In (originally Let The Right One In) we have David Fincher's Adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this Christmas and of course this blog has talked about an American Oldboy. It is easy to call Hollywood lazy but again I ask you to look at audience behaviour, the average cinema goer who uses their local multiplex will probably watch an adaption of a book instead of reading a book whether that's because they were unaware of the book or because the film is quicker. So, if a foreign film proves to be a hit such as Dragon Tattoo was, will audiences flock to see it even if it has a good run in the multiplexes? No, why not? Because it comes down to the simple fact that audiences have to read the damn thing and that's what happened to said film. If audiences can't be bothered to seek out films that aren't made in their country, no matter how good they are studios will (easily) buy the rights to the source material with their loose change, remake it in English and ram it down our throats with a marketing campaign that a film from France or Sweden couldn't dream of. Can you Blame them? I certainly can't!