While Spike Lee's latest film is something of a departure for him, he hasn't changed his stripes as far as basketball is concerned, even if there is now a team in Brooklyn, where he grew up and where he still has his production company.
"The New York Knicks, baby," says the longtime director when asked if the Nets' move from New Jersey had any impact on his allegiance.
Lee's new film, "Oldboy," is a mystery action thriller based on the 2003 South Korean cult film of the same name from Park Chan-wook. The new version stars Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett, an alcoholic businessman who is kidnapped and mysteriously held in solitary confinement for two decades. His only contact with the outside is a TV set that occasionally shows programs about an unsolved heinous crime he doesn't remember committing. Then one day, he is released and tries to find out who was behind the plot.
The project was brought to Lee by his agent. The director says he and Brolin were looking for something to do together for years, and the timing was finally right.
"He's a magnificent actor," Lee says about the film's star.
The original was known for its brutal fight scenes and violence, much of which Lee has kept in what he calls his "reinterpretation." While Lee has made the new film his own, he also knew when he started that there were fans of Park's version who felt another movie was unnecessary.
"It was sacrilegious. I understand cult fans are fanatical, and it was like we were messing with their mama or something," he says, laughing.
"My obligation was to make the best film possible," Lee adds, "not only to Park's film but to the Japanese illustrated novel which the Korean film was based on. Josh went to Park and asked for his blessing, and Park told him, 'Please make your own film. Don't try to do what we did.' "
Lee says that while Park's film is great, he and Brolin were confident in making a new version, which was shot in New Orleans. The director says that city's distinctive look occasionally presented problems during filming because "Oldboy" is set in a nondescript city. Lee knows the city well from having done two in-depth documentaries on New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"Oldboy" also gave Lee another reunion of sorts -- this one with Samuel L. Jackson, who was in four of his films. Their last movie together was "Jungle Fever" (1991).
"Sam called up and said he wanted to be in 'Oldboy,' so I sent him the script and said pick any role except Josh's." Jackson plays Doucett's jailer.
Another key role in the movie went to Elizabeth Olsen, who plays a young medical worker who helps Doucett.
"Isn't she good?" asks Lee, already knowing the answer. "We looked at other people, but we made the right choice."
Lee says the film needed an actress who was "young enough, but old enough" for the role.
Lee was hoping "Oldboy" will work as counterprogramming during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, noting that his "Do the Right Thing" opened around the same time as Tim Burton's "Batman" in 1989 and proved to be a success.
But Lee acknowledges that filmmaking has changed since he made "Do the Right Thing," the fearless story of racial and ethnic tensions in the multiethnic Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. He hopes to take that classic film to Broadway, he says, knocking on wood. It's one of the many projects Lee, 56, is juggling.
Lee, who is also a professor at New York University's Graduate Film School, is editing "Da Blood of Jesus," "about people addicted to blood -- not vampires." The director raised the money for the film through Kickstarter, the online funding platform for creative projects.
Right now, though, eyes will be on "Oldboy."
"Nothing is easy, but we didn't run away from challenges," says Lee about making "Oldboy." The die-hard Knicks fan should know about challenges. The Knicks haven't won a championship since 1973.