Red (Hook) letter day for Spike Lee

With this very blog being named after one of my favourite lines from my favourite Spike Lee ‘joint‘, it would be remiss of me not to mention two very exciting pieces of news that have broken today regarding the mercurial director.

Firstly, Lee announced on Twitter that principal photography has commenced on his new ‘joint’. Details at the time were scarce, but it has since emerged (via Black Film) that this new feature would be called Red Hook Summer, with production slated to start later this month.

Plot info is limited, but the word is that the story centers on an adult from Atlanta who comes and spends the summer in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The most compelling element of the news is that the director will return to acting for the first time since 1999’s Summer of Sam to reprise his role as Mookie, the feckless pizza boy-turned-riot catalyzer he played over twenty years ago in Do The Right Thing. If Red Hook Summer is set in the present day, it will be fascinating to see if, and how, Mookie has matured and developed, and if Lee will attempt to rationalize or revisit the emotionally devastating conclusion of his masterpiece.

The second piece of news is the confirmation that Lee will direct a remake of South Korean helmer Park Chan-wook’s gruelling 2003 thriller Oldboy. I have mixed feelings about this. First and foremost, I’m happy to see Lee back in the spotlight, and I think the remake is an intriguing idea, if only from a “how the hell is he going to approach it?” point of view. The original, viewed by many as a modern classic, is a heady cocktail of extreme, bloody violence and challenging, distinctly adult themes (I won’t spoil for those yet to see it). There is absolutely no way that a major studio would countenance a straight remake, which would suggest the need for a subtle hand to shade in the psychological horror without resorting to graphic viscera.

For all Spike’s stylistic verve (I’m imagining the famed hallway fight scene being reappropriated using one of Spike’s signature ‘floating head‘ shots!), he is not renowned for his light touch, or subtle psychological observations; think of the group of boorish Italian-Americans huddled around a sign reading ‘DEAD END’ in Summer of Sam, or any sex scene that he’s ever directed. To make matters even less promising, script duties will be handled by Mark Protosevich (of I Am Legend andThe Cell fame).

Then there’s the issue of casting the lead role. Will Smith’s name has been furiously touted as a potential leading man, although Smith’s last big screen role which approached “edgy” was his turn as a gay conman posing as Sidney Poitier’s son in Fred Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation (1992). Tellingly, It was also his first feature, illustrating how safe his choices have been since. A brilliant article on the Grantland website goes into more depth in analyzing the finely calculated nature of Smith’s ascent to superstardom. Other names that have been mentioned include Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes (by me, just now) and Willem Dafoe (again, by me, just now). If the current crop of hot actors balk at the live octopus eating scene, however, Paul Burrell will do.

Ultimately, there are too many remakes (Den of Geek reported the full scale of the paucity of Hollywood’s imagination in a 2010 article) being churned out at the moment for me to get too behind the new Oldboy, but I remain intrigued nonetheless.

It has been only a matter of weeks since Spike Lee was complaining that he couldn’t get a film made in the wake of the collapse of a mooted sequel to Inside Man. This now looks like a canny move on his (or his PR people’s) part to create some pre-buzz to today’s news which, twinned with his recent legal victory – for $45.8 million over the international distribution of Miracle at St. Anna – has created a long overdue flurry of interest around the director

Consider my interest piqued. If either are better than She Hate Me, I’ll be satisfied too.

4 thoughts on “Red (Hook) letter day for Spike Lee

  1. JamieR

    I’ve just checked on IMDB and indeed 25th Hour is the only Spike Lee film I’ve seen. So I can’t judge him… but I don’t want anyone to remake Oldboy. There should be some kind of 20-year embargo on remaking others’ work. It’s just a massive shitter for all concerned.

    1. Ashley Clark Post author

      Ooh I don’t know about that. Apparently the ‘remake’ will actually be going back to the Japanese manga of the same name for its source material, perhaps analagous to how the Coens went back to the book of True Grit rather than the John Wayne film.

      And, really, make seeing Do The Right Thing a priority. For my money it’s the best American film of the 1980s. Then check out She’s Gotta Have It, Clockers, Malcolm X and Jungle Fever. Consistency is not his strong point, and there are plenty to avoid, too.

  2. JamieR

    Ha, I’m prepared to admit I’m being more grumpy than strictly rational on this topic. I’m sure there’s many a worthy remake out there. I think partly it’s just the prospect of the following conversation:
    Person: “What films do you like?”
    Me: “Oldboy”
    Person: “Ohh the one with Will Smith and all the explosions?”
    Me: “No, the original…”

    Do THe Right Thing is added to the LoveFilm list!


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