Into The Primal Mind
The impetus to revisit Oldboy began for Spike Lee with Mark Protosevich's
writing. Earlier, producers Roy Lee and Doug Davison of Vertigo Entertainment
and Nathan Kahane of Good Universe had engaged Protosevich to take a crack at
the juggernaut of adapting Oldboy into an English-language movie. Protosevich,
too, was a devoted fan of the Park Chan Wook film - but he was excited to go
both back to the original manga story and into the recesses of his imagination
to take on the themes in a distinctive new way.
"Oldboy is about a lot of things," observes the screenwriter. "I think it's
about the struggle to find inner peace, it's about making amends for past
misdeeds, it's about family, it's about cruelty and of course it is about that
drive for revenge to make someone pay for our pain - and the costs of that
He adds, "It makes you wonder about things you have done in your own past
that may have caused someone else extreme pain that you were completely unaware
of and yet they are living with that for the rest of their lives."
As Protosevich began writing, he wanted to dive completely into Joe Doucett's
surreal experience - the experience of suddenly becoming a prisoner accused of
no specific crime, judged by no jury, but simply held in confinement, forced to
confront his whole being and his own shattering mind, watching the world pass by
only through the peculiar view of a TV screen.
"I did a lot of research on individuals who've spent time in solitary
confinement, such as hostages held by terrorists, and I also researched the
experiments done in the 1950s with baby monkeys who were taken away from their
mothers to see what losing all human contact did to them," he says. "And I also
began to imagine the myriad emotions and feelings that you would go through in
this kind place -- what it would do to your psyche, what it would do to your
soul, and whether it might actually alter you into someone different."
Protosevich was heavily influenced by the manga's depiction of the main
character transforming while in prison into something as steely and lethal as a
wild animal. He also brought back a character only seen in the manga: the
headmistress from Joe Doucett's boyhood school, who has her own tale to tell.
"Edwina Burke provides an interesting perspective on the past - the perspective
of someone who knows things about you that you were never really aware of
yourself," he says.
While he kept to the basic themes of both the manga and the Korean film,
Protosevich added new characters and revised others to entwine them into the
fabric of 21st Century American culture. Then, once Spike Lee came aboard, they
collaborated together to hone the script more tightly to Lee's vision. "The
overall structure was a real challenge for me, because it's such a complex
puzzle, and each piece is so specific. That structure pretty much remained
intact as we began working together, but each of these individual pieces began
to have a little touch of Spike in them," Protosevich explains.
The producers were thrilled with the direction that Lee and Protosevich
headed in. "Spike Lee's relentless re-imagining of the story delves deeper into
the darkness, while retaining many of the elements that make the original such a
classic," says Roy Lee.
Adds producer Doug Davison, who has shepherded the project since it came to
Vertigo, the production shingle he co-founded with Roy Lee: "The film taps into
the reasons that revenge is such fertile cinematic ground. There is something
very primal about it; it stirs something deep in the human brain that people can
really identify with. And since a common thread throughout all Spike's films is
the emotionally powerful and raw performances of his actors, we knew he would
bring a fresh and original take."
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