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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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?

14 Comments

  1. People take ownership of films they deem classics or personal favorites. A good idea is worth making better if one feels up for the challenge. Innovation applies to the arts as well. Yet there is less room for mistakes. A remake has to be better or you will feel the wrath of the fanboys. Some overlooked and under appreciated remakes are:
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    Prude and Pre-juiced

    Handsome motor mechanic, Mickey Dean, helps persuade a prudish nun to return to the church after a close encounter with a fruit juicing machine.

    9
    The Legendary Swords Man, Zorro

    Zorro may have met his match when a new kid on the block comes round his house to do some ‘sword sharpening’. The two hit it off and render merciless an entire village of welcoming nymphets.

    8
    Saw You, See Me II

    Erotica in Magicland. What does the sworn in half lady do when she is being sworn in half? You may never be able to cut a tomato with a sharp blade again after this shocking, and yet ultimately rewarding, journey down suggestiville lane.

    7
    Get Hitched or Die Trying

    Will Smith look-a-likie, Fred Quimby, has the knack for getting couples together… watch this grotesque fetish flick in which the most unlikely partners do stuff together.

    6
    Jammed Jar Head

    The title of this porn movie says as much as you probably want to know about over enthusiastic miss-shapen men. ‘Humble’ Hardman Horace doesn’t seem to let this get in the way of his activities, however, in what is at times an hilariously winning over-the-top performance.

    5
    Zauranus

    A medical sex comedy with Zadie Smith, the 56 inch breasted love momma, playing nurse to a catalogue of needy and wanting patients. Noted mainly as this was the film that got the first ever 56 rating from the movie censors in Uzbekistan.

    4
    Deflowered

    Missionary and flower gatherer Macy Grable is only happy picking and arranging flowers. That is until woodsman Hart Hungry arrives on the scene….

    3
    Chicken Big Boy

    Chicken Big Boy tells all of his friends that the sky is about to fall in but, in a twist to the original fable, when the sky doesn’t fall in, he still manages to have his way with ‘all and sundry’.

    2
    Walk The Pony

    Zade Horsefellow guides her stable of partners through the jump trials and flat races…

    1
    Harry Rotter And The On-Fire Gobbling

    The fourth outing for Rotter, now coming of age and at that certain age. Out go the eyeglasses and in come girls and stuff…

  2. I’ve always wondered why people make a big stink about remakes. From its early days, Hollywood’s always taken material from other sources–books, real life, other movies, songs, etc…–to find its stories. In fact, this is a tradition that predates films. Most of Shakespeare’s plays were “remakes”–he took stories told in other plays and did his own take based on them and we consider them “classics.”

    But I do rag on remakes myself when it seems stupid to do so–did anyone really think it was a good idea to do a “shot by shot” remake of PSYCHO? But when a remake works, it’s not only good but provides something unique and different than the original. Examples? I love the remakes of THE FLY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (a gender-changing remake of THE FRONT PAGE),CAPE FEAR, SCARFACE and plenty of others.

  3. A couple other good remakes are John Carpenter’s The Thing and William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (remake of The Wages of Fear). As for Hollywood remakes of Asian films, I actually enjoyed the remake of The Ring a little more than the Japanese original. Sorry.

  4. Remakes do bother me a bit. Not because they cast chez whitey for every part but because there’s not much recognition for the original film. As decent but award winning The Departed was…rat walks by…95% of my friends didn’t know it was originally Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong. And I have about 99.9% Asian friends. I just want someone to make Big Trouble in Little China, the musical (TC).

  5. what happens when Hollywood remaking the remakes?

  6. I agree with Philip – for me, it’s really in the intention and execution of the remake as to whether it’s a good or bad way to go. But too often remakes are based less on inspiration and more on a shaky market-driven principle – that successful movies much like other products, can be reduced to a formula and duplicated. And in this environment where CEOs control the studios, original ideas are viewed as unknown quantities whereas remakes – or movies based on preexisting branded material are variables that can be plugged into a logarithm to quantify potential financial success. There’s always risk and hard work that goes into developing and advocating a story that god forbid, has no past life as a movie. And my concern with remakes is that they are becoming more of a crutch than a springboard for inspiration in the development process.

  7. Let’s put together a remake of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW with white people–who’s with me?

  8. haha. What an act of respect, Phil!

  9. no problem with remaking stuff; just want the film to be a genuine artistic effort. but I also think that remakes shouldn’t receive funding that would have otherwise gone to creating new original films.

  10. Elaine, very well said. : )

  11. I’ve been trying for years to get the Mongolian version of ANNAPOLIS off the ground but I’m constantly met with skepticism due to that country’s landlocked nature, lack of a Navy, and concern that there is simply no alternative to the fantastic Roger Fan.

    Some people have no imagination.