Producer Roy Lee Talks THE RING, POLTERGEIST, and THE GRUDGE Reboots, A Darker Ending for Spike Lee’s OLDBOY Remake, and More

     November 28, 2011

While on the set of Takashi Shimizu’s upcoming 7500, I got to sit down with a few other journalists and producer Roy Lee, who almost single-handedly spearheaded the J-Horror craze of the early 00’s, producing remakes of over a dozen foreign language horror films including, The Ring and The Grudge, as well as Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning, The Departed.

We’ll have full coverage of the new, original, aviation-based horror film closer to the release date, but today we have a slew of updates on Lee’s very busy development slate. During the interview, Lee talked about rebooting The Ring and The Grudge, a new ending for Spike Lee‘s English-language Oldboy remake that he promises will be darker than the original, directors he wants to work with, spoofs of his own films, getting beaten to the punch by The Hunger Games, his excitement for remaking Poltergeist, the current state of Japanese horror and more.

roy-lee-image-1Question: What’s happening in Japan right now in terms of horror?

Roy Lee: Its definitely tapered off a bit. I haven’t really watched as many. There are some that are made but they just haven’t gotten the recognition that the ones that were made by [Hideo] Nakata and  [Takashi] Shimizu and [Takashi] Miike in the late 90s.

Why do you think that is?

Lee: It’s just because a lot of the great ones were made and then some of them started to repeat themselves and then the audience got a little tired of it and so there was less investment to make those movies and so those filmmakers went on to go do other things.

Is there anyone you want to work with specifically?

Lee: I’ve wanted to work with [Kairo aka Pulse director] Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but he has not been making horror movies recently.

What’s exciting to you in horror right now?

Lee: I’m constantly looking for something that will be pushing the audience to new scares in horror movies. But Jason [Blum has] been doing a tremendous job with the Paranormal [Activity] movies and he has this movie called Sinister which will be coming out which is a hybrid of found footage and live action. Scott Derrickson will be directing. I’ve just been reading scripts and hoping to find something. I have a couple scripts in mind that we’re hoping to do in the same budgetary range as [7500] and continue on to just experiment and hopefully one of them will be made right after this one but we’re in the negotiation stage right now.

oldboy-imageWhat do you have on tap after 7500?

Lee: We are planning to shoot Oldboy in March and that should start preproduction in late January.

Does anything remain from the Justin Lin version of Oldboy written by the Better Luck Tomorrow scribes?

Lee: This is a completely new version written by Mark Protosevich.

Is there anything you can tell us about the approach or style of the new Oldboy?

Lee: It’s very similar, but we’ve added new elements. Or, Mark Protosevich has come up with new elements to it that will throw off the audience who have seen the original movie because there are new characters and new situations that present themselves in a way that changes the story but eventually go in the same direction.

The ending of the film isn’t the same as the Manga on which it’s based. Are you going to retain some of the more controversial elements of the original last act?

Lee: The ending will be something that the audiences will all be…especially the fans of the original will be very happy with. In fact, some may consider it to be a bit darker.

the-grudge-imageWill there be a long take in the hallway?

Lee: There’s a sort of different interpretation of that hallway scene that is going to hopefully be Spike’s signature moment in the movie that we want to show in a way that we’ve never seen done in an action movie.

Are you guys looking to revive The Ring or The Grudge?

Lee: We are looking to do a new version of The Grudge but we haven’t decided on exactly what it will be. We’ve just put it out to the film community that we are hearing takes from writers on what they could bring to the table on what their thoughts are on a new version of The Grudge.

With The Ring 3, are you looking to continue the story or start something new?

Lee: It’s the same thing with The Grudge where we’re hearing takes and actually having a script written just to see if it works in terms of trying to restart a Ring franchise.

How do you keep things fresh when you’re rebooting a remake of a film that had sequels and prequels?

Lee: Like [with 7500’s development] we hear different pitches from people who have their ideas and once somebody hears an idea that we really like, we potentially execute that.

poltergeist-posterAre we ever going to see the Battle Royale American version or has Hunger Games killed that?

Lee: Hunger Games definitely took a lot of wind out of the sails because it definitely has a very similar storyline and so I’m not actually sure if any studio…I’m not even sure if before Hunger Games any studio would have been able to take the creative risks you need to make the movie right and now so would be even harder.

Are you attached to The Storm remake?

Lee: It’s one of those things like The Grudge reboot where we’re just sort of hearing takes on it. Nothing further than that. I’d say the one I’m most excited about updating is the Poltergeist reboot. That is probably something…hopefully next year that somebody will be able to accomplish.

Are you producing that one?

Lee: In talks.

With MGM or the new regime.

Lee: Yes.

Have you seen any of the parody movies of your films? What do you make of them?

Lee: I enjoy them because I find them quite funny, but I do think that once a horror genre is commonly parodied in other movies it sort kills that genre or that specific take on that genre. Once it sort of becomes a joke in and of itself, so you have to push and find something new.

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  • Jason

    Roy Lee didn’t spearhead any so-called J-Horror craze. What he did was spearhead Hollywood’s obsession with remaking Asian movies or more specifically white versions of Asian movies.

    He did nothing to help Asian cinema here in the West and what’s even worse is that despite making his entire career off the backs of Asian film makers by selling remake rights to white Hollywood film makers he has never used his power and influence to help Asian American actors rise in Hollywood and to overcome the discrimination that exists in it.

    Screw this yellow Uncle Tom.

    • Hunter D.

      While I understand your sentiment and agree that Asian-Americans are woefully underrepresented in Hollywood outside of yellowface style roles of hypersexualized Geishas, castrated nerdboys or oddly sexless action heroes. Other than Fast Five, I can’t name a single Asian man/White woman pairing off the top of my head, but I can name dozens of films where the reverse is true.

      However, it’s also problematic to assume that Lee, “Owes” the Asian community something special. First off, the entire term, “Asian” is silly and constructed entirely by the West. Second, while none of the films have starred Japanese/Korean/Thai actors to match the original and many don’t even prominently feature minority ethnicities at all, he has given a lot of jobs to Asian directors and a lot of exposure to Asian movies. He gave these guys a shot to make a big budget Hollywood movie. Do you think Hideo Nakata was going to get that chance otherwise? So he deserves a modicum of respect for that.

      But the biggest issue I have with your argument is that it comes from a place of essentialism. Lee makes movies. If he were a White guy making movies, he’d just be making movies. But because he’s an Asian man making movies he somehow has a larger responsibility? He paid the original filmmakers for the rights. They chose to sell the rights. Lee’s responsibility to Asian cinema and the Asian-American community ends there.

      Sure, one might hope that a man with Lee’s level of influence would use that sway to forward any number of political causes, but to imply that his Asian heritage gives him special responsibility actually limits his individual autonomy just as much as a Charlie Chan stereotype.

      • Jason

        First of all, let’s not get caught up on semantics. I’m using “Asian” to refer to a specific nonwhite group of people that are not of African nor Native American decent.

        Second, he has done nothing to help exposure for Asian movies. He did not release a single Asian film in the West theatrically or on home video. The majority of his work has been specifically to take Asian movies and sell them to Hollywood to make white remakes of them.

        Third, him producing a small handful of movies that employed Asian directors (3 Japanese directors total?) is not really an achievement as that is nothing new in Hollywood. Asian directors like Ringo Lam, John Woo, Kitamura Ryuhei, Stanley Tong, Corey Yuen, Kirk Wong, Andrew Lau, Miike Takashi, Wong Kar Wai and Ang Lee have all found work in Hollywood without the help of Roy Lee. Heck, if we go back decades Fukusaku Kinji (famous in the West for directing Battle Royal) was a co-director on Tora, Tora, Tora.

        The hurdle that exists and has existed for decades is nonwhites constantly being overlooked for lead roles in mainstream Hollywood movies even if it involves whitewashing practices. Roy Lee is Asian American. It is impossible that he has not experienced discrimination in his life as an Asian American and being in Hollywood it is impossible that he has not seen Hollywood limiting nonwhite talent. Seeing as how he has made a name for himself in Hollywood then it would be the perfect opportunity to make changes in it so that the discriminatory hurdles that exist can be broken down since he has the power and influence to make things happen.

        If not him, arguably the most successful Asian American film producer in Hollywood right now, then who? Clearly whites are not tripping over themselves to stop this injustice as they have limited Asian Americans and whitewashed before (e.g. Kung Fu, 21, The Last Airbender) and will continue to do so (e.g. Akira).

        This isn’t about “owing” anyone anything. It’s about stopping injustice that exists in Hollywood. The fact that arguably the most successful Asian American film producer right now is more focused on finding Asian films to sell remake rights to Hollywood companies so that they can produce white versions of them rather than giving big opportunities to Asian American actors and other nonwhite American actors is disgraceful. He should be ashamed of himself.

      • Hunter D.


        I agree your points, but I think you’re missing mine.

        When I said that “Asian” or “Oriental” do not exist except in the minds of the West (where this Them has been used to define the Us), I was trying to subtly ask exactly who Lee should be stumping for. As it happens, Lee is a Korean-American. Should he be going out of his way to help Japanese cultural expansion? Japanese and Korean cultures are not the same, at all. In fact, Korean society has a long and problematic history with both the Chinese and the Japanese: Comfort Women, repeated conquests, subjugation and so on. Your thesis requires that Lee hold allegiance to the artificial idea of “Asian-ness” over any personal history. And while concepts of Negritude have taken hold in some sections of America because Black Americans are largely unaware of their true ancestral home, this is not the case for Asian-Americans. And of course, there is the subsequent issue of, does Lee see himself as an Asian-American or just an American. And why should anyone be able to tell him he is wrong for either worldview?

        If your argument were specifically about Oldboy, which is a Korean film, then it would be more easy to accept. But what does Lee have to do with Japan? Or Thailand? Would your objection be the same if he were remaking an African film? While only Grudge 1+2, 7500, Shutter and The Ring Two were directed by Asian filmmakers, Lee has also worked with minority helmers on The Eye, Abduction, Oldboy and probably a couple of other films (my internet is running slow, so I don’t feel like clicking through his whole imdb page). Why does it only count when Lee hires an Asian?

        When taken to its logical conclusion your argument is paradoxical. Lee should be expanding the roles available for Asian-Americans by…engaging in the, “All Asians are the same” mentality that is also at the core of the cultural hegemony that upsets you. And furthermore, why is this argument entirely one-sided? What of the Asian filmmakers who willingly sold the rights to their movies? Where is there responsibility? And what about the audiences on both sides of the Pacific who saw many of these films in droves. The Ring remake was a big hit in Japan after all.

        Is John Singleton a “sell out” for making movies that don’t deal with the Black condition in America, or is it more socially positive that he is able to direct big budget action films simply because he is a talented director?

        Yes, I think it would be great if Lee chose to make movies with strong, independent, assertive Asian men and women. But I think there is a leap of logic involved in saying that he *should* be doing this.

        And for the record, I found out about a lot of Japanese and Thai cinema after hearing of Lee’s remakes. I went saw the originals. Personally, I think The Ring is vastly superior to any of the Japanese films.

      • Jason

        Where does this so called “All Asians are the same mentality” fit into anything of what I am talking about? I made it clear that this had nothing to with with “owning” anyone anything. So you talking to me about Lee holding “allegiance” is wrong. It’s about an injustice that has occurred, is occurring and sees no signs of stopping in Hollywood. If that core concept is understood and one is in the power of doing something about it like Lee is, then there is no need to keep a score card as to how much he is “owing” to whom. However, Lee is not concerned about Asian American and nonwhite talent not getting lead roles in Hollywood. He only cares about selling remake rights of Asian films to Hollywood to make white versions of. It isn’t what he “should” be doing it’s the fact that he, as an Asian American, doesn’t care. And if a successful and powerful Asian American isn’t going to change injustice in Hollywood against Asian Americans and other nonwhite American actors, who will? Cause whites are not.

        The political history of countries like Japan, Korea, China, etc… have nothing to do with what I am talking about. I am talking about Asian Americans. Asian Americans are not the same as native Japanese, native Koreans, native Chinese, etc… just like an Italian American isn’t the same as a native Italian, a German American isn’t the same as a native German, an Irish American isn’t the same as a native Irish, etc…

        As far as, “Why does it only count when Lee hires an Asian?”, I don’t know Hunter. You tell me. You were the one who brought up Lee hiring Asian directors first and I replied to that.

        In fact, you again bring up Lee supposedly hiring only 3 Japanese film makers to direct white Hollywood remakes of Asian films as if it is an achievement. As I have said before this is meaningless because A) Many more Asian film directors have done just fine securing work in Hollywood without Roy Lee B) That is not the problem. The problem is Asian American and other nonwhite American talent not being giving big opportunities and lead roles in Hollywood.

        You thinking that the American Ring is “vastly superior” to the Japanese Ring is not of any relevance here. And while you might’ve learned about Asian films because of the Hollywood remakes, you are in the minority. The majority of mainstream audiences don’t know for example that The Departed is a remake of Infernal Affairs.

        Asian film companies selling rights to Hollywood studios is also not a concern here because, like I said, I am talking about Asian Americans. Whether or not Asian film companies selling over remake rights to Hollywood is a good idea is a separate topic.

        Not sure where you got the idea that the American Ring was a big hit in Japan. According to box office mojo it only made a little over $14 million. To put that into perspective The Dark Knight made around the same and that is considered to be mediocre box office in Japan. The original Japanese Ring was the highest grossing horror film at the Japanese box office however. In fact, Hollywood remakes of Asian films like The Grudge, Shutter, The Lake House, The Uninvited and The Departed all did unimpressive numbers at the Asian box office.

        Your analogy of John Singleton isn’t applicable because Singleton has made many movies about African Americans and has also helped nonwhite talent gain opportunities. He has made movies like Higher Learning, Poetic Justice, Baby Boy, Shaft and Rosewood that have blacks in lead roles and are stories from an African American perspective. And of course Singleton made Boyz n the Hood which left such an impression that in 2002 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

        What has Roy Lee ever done for Asian Americans in Hollywood?

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    Gee, learned a lot form this interview. Not busting on Mr. Daniels at all, he asked good questions. Mr. lee is like most of the other Producers in Hollywood. Non commital and fickle, dealing with them is like dealing with Jr. high school girls with a bunch of money.

  • brandon

    A Darker Ending for Oldboy? Why not leave it as it was, or better yet, not remake the movie at all? Anybody who knows anything about movies has seen Oldboy. Just because it’s Korean doesn’t mean Americans haven’t seen it.

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  • nelson

    ^fanboys online does not equal all Americans have seen it lol

    i know no one but me and my brother who has seen it outside of internet community

  • Coole

    Well I’ve seen (and loved) the original so I’ll be avoiding this, so don’t worry about throwing new bits in. Your time would be better spent coming up with something original so you’re not just making money off someone else’s ideas. I’ll be rallying against this movie and making sure none of my friends see it. Instead I’m gonna have a screening of the whole vengeance trilogy from my living room. Seriously, what is it with talentless Americans raping peoples’ original works for a quick buck? I’d love it if potential remakers and rebooters had to go before a boardroom and state the reasons why they want to do what they want to do. I guarantee if there were some restrictions in place we’d see more original works and less dumbed-down American remakey trash…

    • Hunter D.

      I hardly think Spike Lee and Mark Protosevich count as talentless hacks. Remakes are almost always inferior to the original, but what of: Scarface, The Ring, The Thing, The Blob, The Maltese Falcon, Little Shop of Horrors, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes, Casino Royale, Batman Begins, Oceans 11+13, Ransom, True Grit, Heaven can Wait, The Fly, His Girl Fridays, The Magnificent Seven, The Good, the Bad and the Weird?

      All of these films were equal to the original or possibly better, in my mind. If anyone can make a worthy remake of Oldboy Lee is a good candidate. (I’d rather see Lars Von-Trier’s version, personally, but that ain’t gonna happen.)

  • Johnny

    Is it true that 90% of the American population cannot watch a film without American language/accents?* Kudos to the other 10% who appreciate quality films. Some films work better in their original language and incarnation. Fantastic example would be any film Hayao Miyazaki has done: it’s so much more believable and gripping when in the the original Japanese language.

    *This goes for television shows too. I don’t know whether it’s arrogance or ignorance, but why the hell do fantastic British shows need to be remade scene-for-scene, word-for-word, into dumbed-down American bollocks?

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