Even the world’s greatest filmmakers are not immune to studio interference. Ten years ago, Oscar winner Spike Lee released his reinterpretation of Park Chan-wook’s acclaimed cult film “Oldboy.” To say the results were not what anyone had hoped would be a bit of an understatement. Critics savaged the project and mass audiences flat-out ignored its existence. “Oldboy” grossed just over $5 million worldwide, despite an all-star cast that included Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Even at the time, Lee suggested the version of “Oldboy” released in theaters was a compromised feature. Asked about recreating the original film’s virtuoso hammer-fight sequence in a 2013 interview with the New York Times, Lee expressed dismay the finished shot wasn’t shown in its intention.
“It’s not one shot,” Lee told the Times. “There’s a cut in it. Shouldn’t be, but there is a cut.” When urged to elaborate, Lee said, “Tough business. That’s all I’m going to say. Tough business.”
Lee’s cut of “Oldboy” was close to three hours; the finished film is just 104 minutes. Notably, rather than calling the film a “Spike Lee joint,” “Oldboy” arrived in theaters with a title card unfamiliar to Lee’s fans: “A Spike Lee film.”
Speaking now about the ill-fated project, “Oldboy” star Brolin said he felt the studio’s alleged interference led to a film that wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. While discussing the failure of “Jonah Hex,” Brolin told Variety, “The studio took it over and every time that’s happened, in my experience, it has only gotten worse. They did it with ‘Old Boy’ with Spike Lee. I thought Spike’s cut was actually way better than the studio’s, but the studio took it away and I thought they’d cut it very poorly and I thought it ended up having the opposite effect. That’s what happens when you start cutting to this idea of pandering for an audience, and how testing can bite you in the ass. You don’t know what the audience is going to want.”
Brolin has defended Lee’s “Oldboy” before. At the time of its release, he told the Los Angeles Times about the theatrical cut, “I do have opinions, but it’s better to bite my tongue.”
Lee followed “Oldboy” with “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” and “Chi-raq.” In 2018, he rebounded with “BlacKkKlansman,” a box office hit and the movie that scored the legendary filmmaker his first and only Oscar.
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