Spike Lee wants to make one thing clear: his Oldboy is not a remake of the notorious 2003 film by Park Chan-wook. This is his interpretation on the source material, a manga by Nobuaki Minegishi. I can see his point, but the fact is that most of us stateside have no connection with the original source. It was Park’s visceral trip that first hooked us a decade ago and Spike’s film will be seen in light of that cinematic gut-punch.
What makes it all more interesting is that Spike is a filmmaker with a defining style and a distinctive sensibility that defines every one of his films. Even Inside Man, by all accounts a work-for-hire project, is charged by his take on race, justice, and politics and his complicated affection for New York City.
A lot of Americans will head to Oldboy to see what the buzz all about. Some will grudgingly want to measure it to the film that lit up their cerebral cortex a decade ago. I’m interested to see what Spike has in mind for the anger, the torment, and the insanity of vengeance inherent in the material. Anyone can helm a remake but it takes an artist to reshape the raw material of one movie into a work that is unmistakably theirs.
Here are ten artists that did just that. I don’t claim these to be the greatest remakes ever, but they all have one thing in common: directors with distinctive visions and styles who give their twice-told tales a singular identity.
A Fistful of Dollars (1968, Sergio Leone, original 1961 Yojimbo directed by Akira Kurosawa)
The original mercenary samurai classic was both a cynical take on Japanese samurai honor and a swipe at American westerns. Sergio Leone replaces the swords with six-guns and rifles, ramps up the savagery and sadism, and carves a pitiless vision of the parched desert frontier across the widescreen with stark figures caked in dust and sweat and stubble. All without changing the plot. Or getting the film rights. The film was a smash, Toho successfully sued, and Leone launched a magnificent career.