By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Holiday movies are often filled with feel-good messages and festive cheer, but as the United States whets its appetite for the Thanksgiving weekend, psychological drama "Oldboy" attempts to serve up a platter of old-fashioned revenge.
"Oldboy," based on Korean director Park Chan-wook's 2003 film of the same name, tells the story of Joe Doucett, an alcoholic washout who is kidnapped and held in a small motel room for 20 years, then released back into society. He embarks on a ruthless journey for answers and revenge.
The theme of revenge is what director Spike Lee said enticed him to re-imagine Park's dark, twisted art house film that featured extreme violence, torture and incest.
"Everyone has felt slighted. Some slights are bigger, some stuff you can let slide and some stuff you can take to the grave," Lee said. "That's why the revenge genre (in film) has always been a staple, because you can live off your revenge through somebody else."
The film, released in U.S. theaters on Wednesday, stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley and serves up a paranoid-filled cinematic alternative over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.
Brolin, 45, who plays Joe Doucett, compared the film's story to a more classic theatrical production, particularly Greek tragedies that contemplate man's place in the universe.
"This role was the most operatically challenging. Just the tone of it was very strange and we were trying to find the balance between exaggeration and reality and being organic," the actor said.
"I thought, 'Anything goes. No matter how embarrassed I feel, it really doesn't matter. It's all about exposing, especially in the motel room," he added.
20 YEARS OF CAPTIVITY
Before filming, Brolin said he visited Park to seek approval to remake "Oldboy," but Park also gave him and Lee some crucial advice on tackling the unsettling drama.
"Park gave it (his blessing) but he also said, 'Please make your own film. Don't try to do what I did,'" Lee said. "So I think once you have that in mind, you know you want to respect and pay homage to the original but do something different."
Fans of the original will find some familiar scenes and motifs: the greasy dumplings that Doucett is forced to eat every day in captivity, the trunk he is put in by his captors when he is released, and the hammer he wields while vengefully taking on dozens of his captors' henchmen.
In Lee's version, much of the first half focuses on the 20 long, arduous years that Doucett is held in captivity, going through a vast roller-coaster of emotions, from suicidal depression to homicidal anger.
As Doucett grows older in the confines of a small space, the only glimpse of the outside world comes from the grainy television box, which switches between world news, exercise shows and programs on his daughter, seemingly orphaned after his wife is killed.
In the course of filming, Brolin also said he went through an extreme physical change to demonstrate Doucett's body transformation, gaining 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms) in 10 days, then losing 22 pounds (9.9 kilograms) in two and a half days.
"All of it was real. All of it was awful and all of it I will never ever do again. Conceptually it was great," he said.
Neither Lee nor Brolin were concerned about translating the film and its taboo themes for a Western audience, with the director saying it never crossed his mind to make the story more accessible for American viewers.
"These are serious subject matters, not something to be made fun of. It's not something to take lightly," Lee said. "Sometimes it's good for audiences to squirm. It's good that sometimes people will stop eating their popcorn and drinking their soda while watching the film."
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Cynthia Osterman)