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Why Spike Lee Was Angry That This Oldboy Scene Got Cut

When Chan-wook Park's electrifying, brutalist revenge drama Oldboy hit U.S. theaters in 2005, it patently shocked American audiences who were not prepared for its brutal depictions of violence, its wild narrative twists, or its unabashedly unsettling eroticism. Even still, most were categorically enthralled by what they saw, with Park delivering a legitimate feast for the senses as stylish in its presentation as it was daring in its execution. Some even deemed it a perfect film that simply could not be improved upon, and the cinema-loving world at large ultimately hailed the film's mind-blowing one-shot hallway fight (in which the hero takes on dozens of assailants with little more than a hammer and his wits) as one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. 

Spike Lee was not among those "perfect movie" purists. While the famed filmmaker clearly has a lot of love for Park's audaciously original Oldboy, he surprised the filmmaking world in the early aughts when he signed on to direct the English-language remake. Shock aside, Lee's involvement (and that of A-listers like Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson) was surely enough to intrigue even the film's heaviest of doubters. Likewise, Lee's pre-release boasts that he was planning something spectacular for his version of the film's iconic hammer fight had many expecting fireworks when his Oldboy debuted.

Lee's take on the famed scene is undoubtedly thrilling in its own right, but he admitted in a 2013 New York Times interview that the epic one-shot he'd envisioned for his Oldboy was not the scene viewers saw in the film because it clearly isn't made up of one single shot. "It's not one shot. There's a cut in it. Shouldn't be, but there is a cut."

Spike Lee wanted to shoot Oldboy's infamous hammer scene exactly how the original was done

That cut comes at about the 1:54 mark in the scene on YouTube, and it's legitimately jarring. When you account for how much work Lee, Brolin, and everyone involved put into executing an epic-yet-faithful take on the original, it's downright infuriating. And Lee had legitimately gone big for his version of the scene, too, complicating the already intricate action by moving it vertically between three separate levels of a parking garage instead of a single hallway. Per the NYT piece, he'd also tasked Brolin with six weeks of training to ensure they could capture the brutality of the moment in one shot as intended. 

Lee and company apparently pulled off seven complete takes of the scene, with the last take making Lee's preferred cut of the film. Sadly, the Da 5 Bloods helmer never got to show audiences the fruit of his Oldboy crew's labor. His disappointment is metered in that interview, but the filmmaker is clearly miffed about it. When pressed for details, however, the infamously verbose Lee could muster only, "Tough business. That's all I'm going to say. Tough business," implying the cut had indeed been forced by his bosses.

Those cuts were reportedly ordered after Lee delivered an epic, three-hour version of Oldboy, which ultimately hit theaters at a trim (nay butchered) 102-minutes. Unable to contain his annoyance over his boss' lack of vision, Lee went on to imply he would've reconsidered his faithful-to-the-original approach on that particular scene had he known it would be altered. "There's no reason to try and even attempt that shot unless it's a one-take. That's the scene from the original! That's the scene!" And that impassioned-yet-frustrated declaration pretty much says it all. Now, anybody know where we can get our eyes on Lee's three-hour version of Oldboy?