OLDBOY: Screenwriter And Producer Mark Protosevich Talks Blasphemy, Honor, And Respect
Controversy has followed the US remake of the classic Korean psychodrama, Oldboy, since its proposal years ago. I had a few words with screenwriter/co-producer Mark Protosevich, who has been along for the film's entire ride from Will Smith and Steven Spielberg to Spike Lee.
The Lady Miz Diva: What were the important points you had to keep from the original film and manga? The irreplaceable moments?
Mark Protosevich: The core story is you've got this incredibly intriguing concept of the imprisonment; of being in this room and not knowing why. And then being confronted by someone who you have no idea who they are, and then learning that they've done this to you, and then you are put in this situation where you have to figure out why. That core, basic framework, that's the most intriguing thing and that's absolutely essential.
LMD: How long have you been attached to this project?
MP: I've been involved - almost to the day - five years. It was almost five years to the day that I got a call from Will Smith saying, "I want you to write my next movie, it's a remake of Oldboy. Steven Spielberg wants to direct it. Can you come out and meet Steven?"
MP: You don't get that call every day, believe me. So, for a year, that was the creative pair that explains my involvement and that was what I thought was going to happen. During the course that first year, I'd written a 30-35-page, very detailed treatment of the movie. I'd become really invested in it, and then it completely fell apart. Spielberg pulled out and because of that, Will pulled out.
LMD: Did the script change very much from starting as a Will Smith/Steven Spielberg project to winding up as a Spike Lee Joint?
MP: You know, it didn't really change at all. I didn't actually write a version of the screenplay for Will and Steven, but I wrote that treatment. Essentially, that treatment, if you've read it, is pretty much the movie that you see - maybe about 80 percent. What I always say, is when you're writing, [for] any screenwriter, the first draft should be the version that [you] want to see. Because they can always ask you to change stuff, but nobody's ever going to let you put back in stuff that you held back. I was writing the version of the movie that I wanted to see and in that sense, it really didn't change.
LMD: The original Korean film turns ten years old this year and it's pretty perfect...
MP: I mean, look, I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that there are a lot of people out there, very devoted fans of the original that sort of regard this version as some sort of an act of blasphemy. All I can say is that we really came from a place of honor and respect. I love the original and I understand their reaction. I mean, there are certain films that if I heard they were going to remake, I would be upset, but I think what I really want is just for people to keep an open mind.
I think even I've come to a point where I want to be open. I mean, there's a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. I'm curious about that. I'm curious to see how a film might be translated by a director from a different culture. I think I'm a little more forgiving about that, so... The other thing I would say is people who do feel strongly about that; there's nothing I can do or say that's going to change that opinion. It's pretty much a fundamental belief and there's no arguing really with a fundamentalist. [Laughs.]
Certainly, we want the movie to do well, but everybody who was involved in this went through it because they really cared.
Oldboy will open in U.S. theaters on November 27.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.