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The film is the last title that will be released by FilmDistrict before the independent company is essentially absorbed by Focus Features, as CEO Peter Schlessel becomes the head of the Universal specialty division.
Although Schlessel refused to talk business at the Film District- and Cinema Society-hosted screening at the AMC Lincoln Square in Manhattan, he was excited to talk about the film.
“We think it’s something really different and unique, which is something we always try to have at FilmDistrict,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Schlessel added that he hoped fans of the original would like Lee’s version, complete with its own flair. “I think Spike took it into a new direction, so it’s not just a follow-by-numbers remake. He put his own brand of Spikeness on it.”
Although Lee’s film is based on the 2003 Korean movie of the same name and the Japanese manga series that inspired that film, writer Mark Protosevich explained that changes were made so that the film would be more realistic and appeal to Western audiences.
“The core story is the same, but there are some cultural aspects of the original that I feel are very much of its culture, and I was very conscious of trying to make our film resonate more from a Western perspective,” he said. “There were certain elements that were very stylized in the original, and I think we wanted to ground it more in reality, or at least that was my intention, to make it play in a more straightforward sense. So, it was trying to capture the spirit and story of the original but trying to make it very much ours.”
Of the differences between the two versions, Samuel L. Jackson explained, “There are so many things that are different and so many things that are similar, in theme, yes, in execution, not so much.”
He added, “My particular character I just wanted to be interesting and sort of off-key in a physical and temperamental sort of way, and Spike allowed me to bring a lot of stuff with me and use a majority of it, so I’m very pleased.”
Indeed, Lee let others help craft their roles, including Elizabeth Olsen. “He collaborates from day one of you being involved,” she said of Lee’s directing style. “It’s amazing to work with him.”
Olsen rocketed to stardom with her critically acclaimed role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which made her an awards contender in 2011. When we asked what advice she had for actors going through their first awards season this year, she offered some perspective, saying, “It will end, and don’t take it too seriously.”
Olsen’s co-star, Max Casella, also revealed that Lee was tough but welcoming.
“Spike is the kind of guy, he makes you feel like a member of the family from the first minute he meets you. Even in an audition situation, he makes you feel like you’re welcome and you’re part of the family,” the actor told THR. “When we worked together he had a very direct, strong, demanding kind of way of knowing exactly what he wanted, and I loved that about him, that he was very, very specific and strong about what he wanted.”
Stars Josh Brolin and Sharlto Copley were not on hand for the screening, but Protosevich revealed how Will Smith, who was originally attached to the project, was responsible for his involvement.
“I originally became involved because initially, Will Smith was going to do it, and we had worked together on I Am Legend,” Protosevich said. “He called me and said, ‘I want you to write Oldboy for me,’ so he’s really the reason I’m here.”
The writer said that there are similarities between the two films about isolated characters: “I think there are similar ideas being investigated, because it’s about a character going through a very traumatic, unusual experience. It transforms him. It’s also about being isolated, being alone and what that does to your psyche. Do you give up, or do you try to survive? The whole horrific experience in some ways makes him a better person.”
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