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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Will Hollywood's 'Oldboy' remake ever take off?

November 11, 2009 | 12:59 pm

When it comes to cult classics, few movies can hold a candle to "Oldboy," the deliriously strange and unsettling 2003 Korean thriller directed by Chan-wook Park that is beloved by critics and fanboys alike, having won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The second installment in Park's "Vengeance Trilogy," the film chronicles the saga of a man who, after being imprisoned for 15 years, sets out on a methodical search hoping to explain the secret of his captivity.

It's a violent, oddly soulful film that essentially defies description (Roger Ebert takes a crack at it here). Being captivated myself, I can understand why it has so many passionate fans. Martin Scorsese, who knows a good movie when he sees one, was so impressed by the film that he immediately set up a meeting in New York with Park. 

Spielberg Hollywood has been attempting to mount an English-language remake of the film for some years, an effort that has just hit another speed bump, with news surfacing that prolonged negotiations between DreamWorks and Mandate Pictures to produce the film together have fallen apart. DreamWorks was interested in acquiring the film for Steven Spielberg to direct, a deal that could have involved Will Smith stepping up to star in the remake. But the proposed deal has collapsed, just days after "I Am Legend" screenwriter Mark Protosevich turned in a 25-page outline with a proposed story line for the new film.

As always in these kinds of matters, no one agrees on exactly what happened. The DreamWorks camp says it walked away from the deal, frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations. But other sources say that Mandate, which optioned the remake rights last year, pulled the plug after DreamWorks insisted on having sole ownership of the remake even if Spielberg didn't end up directing the project. Mandate wanted to retain ownership if someone other than Spielberg ended up directing the film.

The "Oldboy" remake has something of a tortured history. In January 2004, even before Park's film debuted at Cannes, Roy Lee's Vertigo Entertainment, a company that specializes in packaging Hollywood remakes of Asian films, having been involved with remakes of  "The Ring" and "Infernal Affairs," brought the remake rights for "Oldboy" to Universal Pictures. The studio brass loved the film, especially Chairman Stacey Snider and Vice Chairman Mary Parent. But its development progress was slow, especially after Parent took a producing gig and Snider left to run DreamWorks.

With the new studio administration having other priorities, Universal put the project in turnaround. Mandate, which has been involved with a number of adventuresome projects, including "Juno" and "The Grudge," optioned "Oldboy's" remake rights last year, eager to produce the picture with Vertigo. When DreamWorks heard that Universal was no longer involved, the studio approached Mandate about teaming up on the project. Snider, a longtime fan, encouraged Spielberg to see the film. Impressed, Spielberg was soon talking about "Oldboy" as a potential directorial project, which led to interest from Smith as a potential star.

However, Spielberg often has a large constellation of film projects on hand as candidates for him to direct. And DreamWorks' desire to have ownership of the project, even if Spielberg didn't end up directing it, seems to have been a sticking point in the protracted negotiations. So now "Oldboy" is back in Mandate's court. Will the remake ever happen? Mandate is looking to move ahead with the project. But many fanboys in the blogosphere have been expressing delight that the project has hit a roadblock, the general consensus being that Spielberg's taste was far too tame and conventional for a project as daring as "Oldboy." 

I'm still hoping that someone will take a crack at the film, since it feels far more challenging than most of the projects making the studio rounds these days. I could think of plenty of filmmakers, starting with David Fincher (if I were a producer, my wish list would always start with David Fincher), "Wanted's" Timur Bekmambetov, "District 9's" Neil Blomkamp, Guillermo del Toro and Tarsem Singh, to name a few.

If anyone has any other suggestions, feel free to share. Until Mandate makes the next move, we'll just have to content ourselves by watching Park's mesmerizing original one more time. 

Photo: (top) Choi Min-sik in "Oldboy." Credit: Tartan Films; photo: Steven Spielberg by Francois Mori / Associated Press.