Early this decade, Asian remakes were all the rage. In theory it was great business for Hollywood. Find a genre film that works, buy its rights, put Hollywood stars in them and it’s as sure a bet as there is in the movie business. But like everything else it was still a crapshoot. The results varied from Academy Award winners to straight-to-video titles.
I’ve always been intrigued by remakes. It’s a great exercise for a director, whose job is to have an unique point of view. If you give the same script to Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen and ask them to shoot it, I’m sure the resulting product will be quite different. My only issue with remakes is if they only tried to simply xerox the original film and substitute the characters and locations (which they did on a few of them).
Now back to the Asian remakes. Almost from the start people chided it as another example of Hollywood pilfering content from other cultures. It almost became a cause for many Asian Americans, some of whom I’ve had heated discussions over the years. They point out that that it’s yet another example of Hollywood’s use of white face and a lack of respect for the Asian culture.
Look, I totally get the sense of protectionism. But I never got the white face argument. Like the old adage, the only color Hollywood cares about is green. If a big enough audience wanted see Asian stars and read subtitles, then the studios would be more than happy to just buy the original film and show it. As for the lack of respect of Asian culture, have you seen the films that were remade? In every case, the studios were picking films in genres that fit their agenda. I asked a Korean filmmaker one time what he thought was the reason for Hollywood’s tendency to pick films from Korea to remake and his answer was, “A lot of the filmmakers went to film school in the U.S. and are heavily influenced by American cinema. So in a sense they were remaking American films to begin with.”
To add a little spice to the discourse, I want to throw in a new fad that’s been happening in Asia, remaking of Hollywood films. It turns out the audience outside of North America was only really interested in seeing tentpole movies from Hollywood and that they prefer everything else to be from their native land. And their respective industry is trying to oblige.
It was announced last November that Alexander Payne’s Sideways was going to get a Japanese remake. And before you start shouting “Asian director hacks!”, Variety announced that Zhang Yimou is remaking the Coen Brothers’ classic, Blood Simple.
I personally think it’s an act of respect anytime anyone wants to remake your film. And at the end of the day we can argue until the cows come home, but the fact is the original film will still be there, untouched. What do you think?