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Poster Lab: Spike Lee’s Oldboy

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Poster Lab: Spike Lee’s <em>Oldboy</em>

I hate to take the easy road and say that the designers of the latest Oldboy poster thought outside of the box, but, hey, if the metaphor fits. This beauty of a one-sheet, which heralds Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-Wook’s decade-old modern classic, has antihero Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) emerging from a trunk, whose seemingly bottomless nature makes Joe look like the Mary Poppins of vengeance-seekers. As most already know, Brolin is playing the role made famous by South Korean actor Choi Min-sik. Based on early reports, Brolin won’t be emulating Min-sik by eating a live octopus on camera, but he will be similarly playing a businessman inexplicably imprisoned for 20 years, then suddenly released and bent on finding his captor(s).

Compositionally, the poster is a dream, from the way the trunk’s lid aligns perfectly with the horizon to the way its corner meets a tuft of grass that also serves as the billing block’s nest. With a runner’s stance and a clump of dead grass in his fingers, Brolin looks at once like a ready-to-pounce cat and a madman who’s clawed his way out of a hellish pit. You can feel the movement in a pose that implies instinct, focus, and primal rage.

According to a press release, the flowing, splattered-ink text of the title was written by Brolin’s own hand. It’s a nod to the letters that Joe pens for his daughter while kept in solitary confinement, and, presumably, to the other splatters that are sure to come in the wake of Joe’s release back into the wild. That tidbit of trivia has got to be one of the coolest actorly endorsements of a personal project in some time, and the scrawl looks bloody fantastic against that heavy, looming gray sky. The other text that surrounds it is telling in its own respective ways. Lee fans will note that this is “a Spike Lee film, ” and not “a Spike Lee joint,” as the latter seems to be reserved for the auteur’s characteristically urban works, while the former is employed for more Hollywood projects like Inside Man. Meanwhile, the tagline, “Ask not why you were imprisoned; ask why you were set free,” brings on an immediate, if subtle, evocation of JFK—a gentle nudge that this is indeed an Americanization of a foreign production.

But the poster is not without a hat-tip to its origins. The girl just left of the trunk lid, placed right in the break of the trees (we assume she’s Joe’s daughter), provides much more than a crucial blast of color. Her style of dress, the pattern on her clothing, the umbrella she carries, and the tallies on its panels (which recall the first teaser poster for this movie, as well as, at least from a distance and an American point of view, the neon South Korean characters that filled the poster for the original), exude ample Asian flair without laying it on thick. Oldboy is a remake project with a complex and troubled production history, with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith attached at one point, and actors Colin Firth and Clive Owen coming and going as choices to play the villain, Adrian Pryce (the role ultimately went to Sharlto Copley). But no matter the outcome of the film, which is set to drop October 25, this is poised to be one of the best film posters of 2013.